Under California Labor Code 2922, an employer can terminate an employee "at will:" at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. There are four exceptions to the law:
1. The employee has an employment contract with a specified future termination date of more than one month after the commencement of employment;
2. The employer has engaged in unlawful discrimination based upon race, color, nationality, ancestry, religion, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age or disability;
3. The employer has terminated the employee in violation of a well-established public policy (jury duty, witness subpoena, whistleblower statute, report of employer's criminal activities to law enforcement, etc.);
4. The employer has violated its own disciplinary policy (implied contract), which provides for a specific process that must be followed prior to any termination of employment.
Based upon your stated facts, there are two possibilities: sex discrimination, i.e., that your wife was terminated because she is a woman, and due to her emphasis on maternal obligations, she is no longer viewed as being a productive employee; and/or breach of disciplinary policy, i.e., that your wife was terminated without following the employer's required procedures (whatever they are).
In order to bring an action for sex discrimination, your wife would have to show that she was replaced by someone of the opposite sex. It is not sufficient to show that a person of the same sex, who does not have children was hired. If she can do this, then she may have a viable claim against the employer.
To bring an action for breach of implied contract/discplinary policy, you would have to (or have a lawyer) review the employment handbook and any other written agreements to see if there was a violation of the process.
A discrmination action is usually easier to bring than a contract action, principally because most employees cannot recover attorney's fees in a contract action. So, unless the employee is very highly compensated, then the value of the lawsuit is usually less than the cost of a lawyer -- making the case a nonstarter. However, you can certainly raise both issues with an employment rights lawyer in your area.
The easiest way to bring a sex discrimnation action is to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. However, DFEH likes easy to win cases, and yours is not, based upon your facts. So, you may be rejected. Nothing to lose, however, by filing the complaint.
To contact DFEH, see this link
For an employment rights lawyer referral, see this link
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