Former employees and their lawyers are always looking for ways to maximize what they can get from former employers. One way is to add a wrongful discharge claim if an employee is fired after he or she complains about workplace safety.

These cases can get quite expensive, as the following case shows.

Recent case: Latoya Boston worked for Penny Lane Centers, a social services agency that operates group homes for juveniles. Boston conducted individual and group therapy sessions for youths. When Boston began working at Penny Lane, the staff-to-patient ratio was about 1-to-3. That changed over time until Boston was seeing 18 teens per day rather than one or two.

Boston complained to management that the staff-to-patient ratio was unsafe. Her supervisor told her to “get over it and stop whining.” She was then fired for alleged poor performance.

She sued, and a jury said she was due $700,000 in damages for being fired for reporting safety problems.

Penny Lane appealed, arguing that Boston didn’t have the right to sue for wrongful discharge, but could only file a complaint with California for violations of patient/client staffing requirements.

The appeals court disagreed and upheld the jury award. It said employees can always sue for wrongful discharge if they are fired for reporting any sort of workplace safety concerns. (Boston v. Penny Lane Centers, No. B204628, Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate Division, 2009)

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