Over the last few years, many companies have had to lay off employees because of the difficult economy. While generally theses layoffs are legal — since under California employment laws most employees are considered at will employees — some may not have been. In one California case, in particular, former employees of a national security lab claim they faced wrongful termination.

Here, the lab had been working on nuclear weapons technology but with the recession it needed to cut employees. Therefore in 2009, 430 of the lab’s employees were laid off. Shortly after, 130 of those employees banded together to sue the company for wrongful termination based on unlawful discrimination. The case has been spit up, and the first group of five employees has recently gone to trial.

According to these former employees, the lab fired them based on their age and seniority within the company. They argue that the company was looking to get rid of the older workers who typically earned more money. The employees argue that the average age of the group of people fired in 2009 was 54-years-old. Furthermore, they claim many younger employees kept their jobs.

As a result of the wrongful termination, the five former employees are asking for $3 million for future and lost wages.

The lab, on the other hand, maintains that they did nothing wrong. They say the layoffs were necessary because of the economy. The company argues that going forward it just didn’t need the skill set of the employees who were fired.

Under California employee laws, it is illegal for employees to be fired because of their age. If employees are fired because of their age then they have been wrongfully terminated and may be entitled to damages.

Source: Contra Costa Times, “Lawrence Livermore Lab: Age discrimination case sees closing arguments begin,” Paul T. Rosynsky, May 1, 2013