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Wrongful Termination Claims: What is Temporal Proximity?

California is an ‘at will’ employment state. This means that your employer does not actually have to have a reason to fire you. Your employer could potentially be able to terminate you for no reason, or even for a downright silly reason. However, you do have some legal protections: your employer cannot fire you for a prohibited reason.

Notably, you cannot be fired as retaliation for exercising your rights as an employee. As stated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is unlawful for employers to retaliate against workers who engaged in protected activity. Whether you reported sexual harassment, blew the whistle on misconduct, or accessed your right to take medical leave, your employer is prohibited from punishing you.

Of course, in practice, proving retaliation in not always easy. When employers unlawfully retaliate against workers, they will typically try to conceal the misconduct. Your employer may even outright lie about the reason why you were fired. In this post, our experienced San Francisco wrongful termination attorneys explain one of the key pieces of evidence that can be used to prove retaliation: temporal proximity.

Temporal Proximity: Time Matters

In legal parlance, the term ‘temporal proximity’ refers to how close in time different things occurred. In wrongful termination cases, temporal proximity is an extremely important factor. This concept is best illustrated through an example:

A female employee at a Bay Area company filed a sexual harassment claim on August 1st. This employee has worked at this company for four years. In that time, she has only received positive employment evaluations. On September 15th, six weeks after the sexual harassment claim was initially filed, she was suddenly fired from her position. According to her employer, the reason for her termination was simply poor performance.

Sadly, there is nothing unusual about this example. That she was terminated so soon after she reported sexual harassment supports an inference that those two things are related. This is a potential case involving temporal proximity. The closeness in time of these two events is itself a form of evidence that this employee was wrongfully terminated.

Additional Evidence is Often Required to Prove Wrongful Termination

Temporal proximity is a very important form of evidence in a wrongful termination case. That being said, it is generally not sufficient to prove wrongful termination. Other evidence will usually be required as well. This evidence can come in many different forms, from past employment reviews, to comments made by co-workers or managers. If you were terminated after engaging in protected activity, it is imperative that you work with a skilled Bay Area employment attorney who can help you build a strong legal case.

Contact Our Bay Area Wrongful Termination Lawyers

At Bracamontes & Vlasak, our California employment law attorneys have extensive experience handling wrongful termination claims. If you believe that you faced unlawful retaliation, we can help. For a free, fully confidential case evaluation, please contact us today. With an office in San Francisco, we represent workers throughout the Bay Area and Northern California.

Wrongful Termination