Arizona is an at-will employment state, which means that an employee can be terminated at any time, unless there is a written agreement to the contrary, for any reason or no reason at all; she or he just can’t be fired for a “bad” reason. Generally, this means that an employee cannot be fired on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, disability, age, or status in another protected class. Arizona also prohibits an employer from firing an employee for, among other things, whistle-blowing, jury duty, service in the military. Both Arizona law and federal law also prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace.
What does this mean for you? Perhaps the most commonly-held misconception among the employees with whom we meet is that they have been “wrongfully terminated” because their employer, manager, or supervisor is a jerk or fired them for no reason. Unless you believe your supervisor was mean to you for one of the above reasons (i.e., on the basis of your race, sex, disability, age, or because you took protected actions), an employee does not state a claim for wrongful termination under Arizona law.
We represent both employers and employees with respect to their rights and obligations under federal and state employment laws. We counsel employers regarding their rights and responsibilities under the law and represent them when an employment dispute ends up in court, in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), or in the Arizona Civil Rights Division (“ACRA”).
Our lawyers have significant experience handling cases filed under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), state employment and wage laws, and other state and federal laws that govern the employment relationship.
Employment Liability Defense Litigation
Our attorneys have successfully defended large and small employers from allegations of discrimination, wrongful termination, unfair competition, wage disputes, and other claims. Companies face countless decisions daily. Our firm can assist your company in making decisions and handling employment disputes that will, whenever possible, avoid unnecessary litigation. We work with employers to implement procedures and policies that will reduce potential liabilities. When litigation becomes necessary or desired, however, we stand ready to aggressively represent and defend clients in any court or before any governmental agency.
We counsel and represent employees and employers with respect to their rights and obligations in the area of employee discharge. If you believe you are the victim of employment discrimination or that you have been wrongfully discharged from your employment, you have a very short time in which to challenge your termination and a complicated set of rules to follow in order to do so. In cases of employment discrimination, you will lose your right to sue if you fail to take the necessary steps within six months of the act of discrimination.
We regularly assist employers who are being sued, threatened with a lawsuit, or trying to take preventative measures to avoid a dispute in the first place.
Sexual harassment is a violation of both Arizona law and federal law. Sexual harassment can include pervasive comments, lewd or suggestive language or actions, inappropriate and unwelcome sexual advances, and groping and sexual assault. Sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment or lead to adverse employment actions.
We have represented numerous individuals who suffered an adverse employment action, including firing or demotion, because they refused to accept the unwelcome sexual advances of an employer or supervisor. We also have represented the victims of sexual assault or contact against employers who either perpetrated the actions or knowingly allowed them to occur during the workplace.
Arizona’s Whistleblower Law
Arizona law prohibits retaliation against an employee who “blew the whistle” on unlawful conduct. The Arizona legislature has defined “whistleblowing” as:
The disclosure by the employee in a reasonable manner that the employee has information or a reasonable belief that the employer, or an employee of the employer, has violated, is violating or will violate the Constitution of Arizona or statutes of this state to either the employer or a representative of the employer who the employee reasonably believes is in a managerial or supervisory position and has the authority to investigate the information provided by the employee and take action to prevent further violations of the Constitution of Arizona or statutes of this state or an employee of a public body or political subdivision of this state or any agency of a public body or political subdivision.
The law protects employees against wrongful termination based on reports of an employer’s violations of state law. In other words, Arizona law recognizes that a state-law whistleblower can sue if they have been fired, or subjected to adverse employment action.
What constitutes a “whistleblower,” however, depends on the particular facts of the case. If you believe that you have been fired or mistreated because you blew the whistle on your employer, or if you are an employer being accused of firing a whistleblower, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule a consultation.
Overtime, Minimum Wage, and Unpaid Wage Claims
The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) generally entitles employees to overtime pay unless their position is “exempt” from the overtime requirements of the FLSA. It is our experience that many employees are misclassified as “exempt,” and therefore may have a claim for overtime pay if they worked in excess of forty hours per work week. It is important to know that job titles do not determine whether you are entitled to overtime pay. In order to be exempt from overtime, an employee’s job duties and salary must fall within one or more of the exemptions enacted by the government.
Our lawyers have identified numerous instances where a client has been misclassified as exempt and made demands for reimbursement of unpaid overtime. These often have included instances where the employee has received a fancy title (“Assistant Manager,” “Supervisor,” “Sales Representative,” or sometimes even “Manager”), but whose specific duties, work actually performed, and salaries are insufficient to allow the employer pay him or her on a salary basis.
In addition to recovering back pay, the Fair Labor Standards Act also provides for recovery of additional damages, called “liquidated damages,” in an amount equal to the amount to the amount of overtime wages due and owing for violating the FLSA. In addition, Arizona law also requires an employer to pay employees who have been discharged “wages due him within three working days or the end of the next regular pay period, whichever is sooner.” Under the law, a discharged employee who has not been paid within three working days may have a claim against the employer for up to three times the amount of the unpaid wages.
Trade Secrets Litigation
A trade secret, as one of a company’s most valuable assets, is worth protecting. Often companies spend months, years, or even decade deveoping trade secrets and proprietary information to gain an advantage over the competition. Trade secrets that are lost or stolen can cause irreparable damage and, in many cases, can mean the difference between life and death for a company. In many cases, trade secret disputes often arise when an employee or group of employees leave, either to start a competing business or join an existing competitor. Regardless of which side you find yourself on, we provide experience, strategic planning and implementation, and seasoned representation to avoid trade secrets disputes.
Swift, aggressive litigation is often essential, and many times the only means, for protecting a company’s trade secrets and preventing unfair competition.
Contract disputes can arise in various scenarios for businesses. Disputes with employees, vendors, competitors, suppliers, and joint venturers are but a few of the common contract disputes our lawyers handle every day. Clients who find themselves in disputes over non-compete and non-solicitation agreements require aggressive, knowledgeable counselors to avoid litigation or, if the case is already in court or needs to be there, to adeptly handle the case from its inception.
Professional Licensing and Disciplinary Disputes
We represent professionals in various state boards and agencies, including the Arizona Board of Nursing, the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, the Registrar of Contractors, the Arizona Department of Real Estate, and the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions. You have worked very hard to obtain your professional license.
Let us help you when you are facing disciplinary proceedings or possibly losing your license.