Wrongful termination law: Avoiding a lawsuit

– Cynthia Hsu is a contributor to FindLaw’s Free Enterprise blog. FindLaw is a Thomson Reuters publication. This article originally appeared here. –

As a small business owner, knowing some of the intricacies of wrongful termination law can be vital to preserving your business. Illegal firing of employees for reasons you may believe are justified might just land you in a costly wrongful termination lawsuit.

Most employees are “at will” in the U.S., meaning that they can be fired for whatever reason you want. Of course, that reason must be a legal reason.

So what are some of the common originators of wrongful termination suits? And, what should small business owners be aware of?

Discrimination: Discrimination is one of the biggest originators of wrongful termination suits. In 2008, the EEOC received about 95,402 workplace discrimination complaints. Firing an employee because of their race, gender, national origin, disability, religion and age are all illegal. So is firing someone who is in a “protected class,” such as a worker who is fired just because she is pregnant or recently gave birth. Some states have also included sexual orientation as a protected class.

Starbucks and small business

The popularly-held belief that Starbucks kills mom-and-pop shops is a fallacy, says Temple University history professor Bryant Simon.

“In fact, Starbucks created the market for the small coffee shop,” says Bryant, whose new book “Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks” is due to be released in October.

Simon argues that 20 years ago you couldn’t find a “good” cup of coffee anywhere, until Starbucks came along and “created a desire and a taste for specialty coffee” that eventually gave birth to the corner specialty coffee shop.

What the Tesla founders’ feud can teach entrepreneurs

Tesla Motors Inc. CEO Elon Musk

High-powered electric-car startup Tesla Motors has hit a speed bump with the filing of a lawsuit by former CEO and founder Martin Eberhard.

The libel suit, filed on May 26 in San Mateo County, Calif. Superior Court, alleges current CEO Elon Musk falsely portrayed himself as the founder of the company and orchestrated Eberhard’s ouster as original CEO in 2007. In the lengthy 22-page document, Eberhard accuses Musk and Tesla of, among other things, libel, slander, breach of contract, negligence and failure to pay wages. The suit doesn’t even refer to Musk as a co-founder, but simply as one of “various investors,” who joined the Tesla board in April 2004.

Eberhard’s suit claims that from the moment he came on board, Musk “began a campaign to appropriate control of Tesla Motors and Eberhard’s legacy as the company’s founder and visionary.” The suit further alleges that Musk “began a pattern and practice of defaming and disparaging Eberhard in various widely distributed media outlets,” a few of which included The New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today and NPR.