Can Interns Sue for Wrongful Termination in California? 7 Protected Classes

June 13, 2024

Can Interns Sue for Wrongful Termination in California? 7 Protected Classes

interns might be eligible for a suit

Interns are generally not paid for their time at a company.

Interns usually work for an assigned period of time to gain experience and network in their respective field. They often work at internships in various areas, including marketing, business, and medical fields, to name a few.

Despite usually being unpaid, interns are still technically employees. Occasionally, interns can be let go of or terminated.

Some reasons an internship may be ended include:

  • Not following rules, such as a dress code, inappropriate comments towards colleagues, or poor attendance
  • Performing illegal activities
  • Drinking on the job, or coming to the job under the influence of alcohol
  • Making damaging remarks or actions that could hurt the company’s reputation

Letting go of an intern must be done in a lawful manner. Per California Government Code 12940, interns cannot be wrongfully terminated.

Wrongful termination occurs when the employee is unlawfully terminated due to a violation of the employee’s legal rights.

California employment status is at-will, so an employee may be terminated at any time with or without cause. Still, there must be a legal reason for terminating the employee, similar to the aforementioned causes mentioned in this post. 

Employees are protected from unfair treatment, including wrongful termination, because of their:

  • Race 
  • Color 
  • Religion
  • Sex (including gender identity, transgender status, and sexual orientation) 
  • Pregnancy 
  • National origin 
  • Age (40 and older) 
  • Disability 

Employees are also protected from retaliation, such as:

  • Reporting harassment 
  • Reporting discrimination 
  • Reporting unsafe work conditions or other labor code violations 
  • Reporting company violation of any laws 
  • Refusing to engage in discriminatory or otherwise illegal activity

In short, you may have been wrongfully terminated from an internship if:

  • You were terminated on the basis of belonging to a protected class
  • You were terminated as retaliation for engaging in a legally protected activity

Interns may be discriminated against

Think of a situation where Priya is the only non-white male hired as an intern for a film production company.  She’s often excluded from certain projects and group outings, and overheard another intern calling her a racist name to another person. 

Priya informs her supervisor about what happened, and after a few days, she and the other intern are relieved of their duties at the internship.

Priya has a potential claim for being wrongfully terminated at her internship. She did not partake in any inappropriate activities, and is actually a victim of retaliation by the company. 

For a successful claim, Priya would have to prove she was fired because of retaliation and discrimination. She could do this with documented evidence such as:

  • Emails or email exchanges between her and the company or Human Resources
  • Text messages with the aforementioned groups
  • Employee track record (good attendance, high praise from supervisors)
  • Witness accounts to the discrimination

An internship should be a wonderful learning experience that could lead to networking or even a potential job opportunity. However, if you believe you were wrongfully terminated during the course of your internship, it’s best to consult with a wrongful termination attorney.

At C&B Law Group, our team of Los Angeles and Southern California employment attorneys are prepared to help interns following their wrongful dismissal. Your attorney will examine the case, ensuring a factual claim is made using proper evidence. 

The Hollywood lawyers at C&B Law Group have recovered millions of dollars for clients.

Discrimination is an illegal practice, and we vow to protect your rights as an intern. 

It’s not uncommon for interns who are wrongfully terminated to feel lost, confused, or even trapped. You may fear your name getting out and other company’s thinking you are a problem in the workforce. 

It’s not OK to be discriminated against, nor is it OK to be wrongfully terminated. At C&B Law Group, our team of Hollywood employment discrimination attorneys will protect your employment rights and defend them with all of our legal power. 

Don’t let a company you interned for bully you. Whether large or small, no company has the right to promote discrimination and wrongfully terminate interns.

Wrongfully terminated at your internship? Contact C&B Law Group about your free consultation

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