Lay off due to elimination of position

I was laid off because my "position was being eliminated." However, 2 weeks after I left the company, I was told by ex-coworkers that my boss hired someone in my place to perform my same job duties (though I believe my boss gave this person a different job title?).

Also, my boss announced in a company management staff meeting (and to various outside vendors) that I was the one to hand in my resignation. This was absolutely not true. Interestingly, HR had tried to have me sign a severence contract that stated "employee has now resigned from the company." I refused to sign this contract and it was later changed to "employee agrees to mutual termination." I have filed for unemployment and the company has not contested it so far. I just want to know if it's legal to lay someone off and then hire someone else to perform the same job duties.

2 answers  |  asked May 2, 2003 11:52 AM [EST]  |  applies to California

Answers (2)

Joan Herrington

It sounds like the lay-off was a pretext to get rid of you. When an employer discharges an employee and contemporaneously offers a severance package in exchange for an agreement to release any and all potential claims against the employer,if the employee rejects the offer, and later sues the employer, the employee often seeks to introduce the proposed severance agreement as evidence on the issue of discriminatory intent. Most courts that have considered this issue have concluded that such severance agreements are probative of discrimination, and thus relevant and admissible. [See, e.g., Cassino v. Reichhold Chemicals, Inc., 817 F.2d 1338 (9th Cir. 1987) (severance agreement offering $18,000 in exchange for release of all claims held admissible, citing cases), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1047, 98 L. Ed. 2d 870, 108 S. Ct. 785 (1988); Lancaster v. Buerkle Buick Honda Co., 809 F.2d 539, 540 (8th Cir. 1987) (severance agreement offering $39,000 severance pay and six months medical insurance premiums for general release); Moore v. McGraw Edison Co., 804 F.2d 1026, 1028-30 (8th Cir. 1986) (severance agreement offering severance pay for liability release); Sherrod v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 785 F.2d 1312, 1314-15 (5th Cir. 1986) (severance agreement offering approximately $5,000 in addition to accrued vacation and service allowances for release); Pruet Production Co. v. Ayles, 784 F.2d 1275, 1278 (5th Cir. 1986) (severance agreement offering$120,000 if employee signed release); Ryther v. KARE 11, 864 F. Supp. 1510 (D. Minn. 1994) (evidence of severance agreements with former employees was relevant and admissible to show bias); Madden v. Independence Bank, 771 F. Supp. 1506, 1508 (C.D. Cal. 1991) (severance agreement itself "is admissible on the discriminatory intent issue. So you need to consider whether your employer laid you off because you belonged to a protected class (sex, age, race, religion, etc.).

posted by Joan Herrington  |  May 2, 2003 8:10 PM [EST]
Richard J. Vaznaugh

It sounds like they gave you a false reason for your termination. The question would be what is the real reason. Most people in California are (unfortunately) employed "at will" meaning you can be fired for no reason. Some people have contracts of employment, but outside of the union context that is rare. Otherwise, only specific types of terminations are illegal depending on if they fired you because you were sick, older, complained of illegality, etc. . . So the real questions are why did they do it, is that an illegal reason, and, ultimately, how to prove the illegal reason. RV

posted by Richard J. Vaznaugh  |  May 2, 2003 2:52 PM [EST]

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