When you get fired for doing the right thing

Claudia Ponce de Leon wanted to do the right thing. When she saw something that wasn't ethical-three bankers under her supervision were opening fake bank accounts to meet sales goals-she called the bank's ethics hotline. What happened next is enough to get almost anyone angry.

Three weeks after her report, Ponce de Leon was terminated from her position. Feeling she was wrongfully terminated, she brought her complaint to the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The bank defended their action stating she had a documented history of excessive drinking and other inappropriate behavior. Ponce de Leon denied this.

OSHA found no documentation of inappropriate behavior. What they found instead, was a near-model employee who had been promoted to positions of increasing authority ten times over the last decade and had 20 pages of commendations, the last one having been awarded just six months before her termination.

Claudia Ponce de Leon was wrongfully terminated.

Wrongful termination explained

Although most employment is at will, meaning either you or your employer can terminate the relationship at any time, there are boundaries in place. Employers cannot let you go for:

  • Refusing to engage in illegal or unethical conduct
  • Exercising your right to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Filing a workers' compensation claim
  • Reporting employment discrimination, sexual harassment, wage and hour violations or other employment law violations
  • Blowing the whistle on illegal or unethical conduct

OSHA found that there was reasonable cause to believe that Claudia Ponce de Leon had been the victim of whistleblower retaliation. They ordered the bank to reinstate her. However, Ponce de Leon had already moved on to a new position with a different bank. She was offered a settlement by her old employer.

When an employer crosses the line and bad things happen to good people, an attorney experienced in the protection of employee rights can help set things right. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

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