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Jury awards more than $18 million for wrongful firing

Michael T. thought his career was in good hands with Allstate. It was not. The 55-year-old Californian had worked for Allstate for 30 years, ever since he graduated from college. He had worked his way up to the position of field sales leader and advised 30 independent agents and staff. Despite this excellent performance, he was abruptly fired in 2016.

The reason he was fired had to do with a 2014 arrest in Arizona after complaints made by his then-girlfriend. She was in psychiatric care, and it turned out to be a wrongful arrest. The charges were dropped.

Allstate apparently discovered the out-of-state arrest while monitoring employee emails. One email between Michael and his then-girlfriend was flagged, although an internal investigation concluded that no action should be taken. After that, however, the girlfriend sent an emotional email discussing the situation to Allstate's CEO. That allegedly prompted Michael's firing.

California law prohibits citing mere arrests when firing someone

Allstate told Michael that the reason he was being fired is that "threatening anyone" violated company policy. Michael sued for wrongful termination because California Labor Code Section 432.7 prohibits employers from considering arrests when deciding whether to terminate employees, unless those arrests result in convictions. He also sued for termination in violation of public policy and for defamation.

The case recently went to trial and the jury found that Allstate had indeed violated California law when it fired him over the arrest. According to Michael's lawyer, the jury also found that Allstate's stated reason -- threats allegedly made by Michael -- was false and that the company had failed to act with reasonable care in determining the truthfulness of the claim against him, which defamed him. Furthermore, the jury concluded that Allstate acted with malice, oppression or fraud.

The jury awarded Michael $2,663,137 to compensate him for his financial losses and other damages. It then awarded him a total of $15,978,822 in punitive damages, which are meant to punish defendants who act with malice, oppression or fraud. The total award was $18,641,959. Allstate plans to appeal the verdict.

Wrongful termination could happen to anyone

Can you imagine spending your entire career with a company, receiving positive reviews, being put in charge of other employees, and then being fired for a false and unjust reason? It could happen to anyone. An arrest alone is simply not a fair reason for someone to lose his or her job -- and California law recognizes that.

If you have been fired based on a mere arrest, you may have a wrongful termination claim. Contact an employment law attorney for an evaluation of your situation.

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