Florida is an “at-will” state and this entails that employers can choose to fire an employee without prior notice or even a specific reason to do so. While there are several situations in which dismissing an employee is legal, it is illegal for employers to wrongfully terminate their workers.

There are numerous instances of wrongful termination under Florida law. These cases rarely go to trial because the parties always prefer or rather manage to settle out of the courtroom. When it is not possible to attain a satisfactory settlement, there might be a trial and a judge will have to decide the outcome of the lawsuit.

Most litigation cases in the state of Florida have mixed verdicts, and this simply means that they tend to involve one, or possibly several claims of wrongful termination due to gender discrimination, breach of employment contract, whistleblowing, disability, race, color, national origin, religious discrimination, constructive discharge, age discrimination, workplace retaliation, sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity discrimination or firing in violation of public policy.

Below are examples of the various types of wrongful termination cases filed and won in the state of Florida in recent times.

Top 10 Wrongful Termination Cases Won in Florida

  1. Kara Jorud v. Michaels Stores, Inc.

Even though she had worked for the company since 2001 and was noted as a top-performing employee for Michaels Stores, Kara was dismissed in October 2008 after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to go through a double mastectomy and chemotherapy sessions.

According to her testimony in court, the store numerous times interfered with her right to take leave, forcing her to work when she was not physically and emotionally fit, and threatening her for taking time off due to her feeble condition. After being fired, Kara recounted how she lost her medical insurance, and almost lost her home to foreclosure.

In response, she filed a lawsuit against Michael for wrongful termination and violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act. She won the wrongful termination lawsuit and was awarded a total of $8,100,000, which included lost wages ($100,000), pain and suffering ($4,000,000), and punitive damages ($4,000,000).

  1. Alyssa Ogden v. Hillsborough County

Alyssa Ogden was employed as the personal aid to Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White. On a business trip, he started making sexual advances on her. She told the court how she refused, but the Commissioner kept making unwanted advances and inappropriate comments to her for 6 months afterward. It got to point that she was dismissed, allegedly for turning down the sexual advances.

Ogden sued the county. The jury awarded Ogden $15,000 for medical expenses and $60,000 for mental anguish. The jury did not award any lost wages or benefits. Ogden then sought over $200,000 in attorney’s fees. Hillsborough County settled with Ogden for $278,000.

  1. EEOC v United Healthcare of Florida

In this case of same-sex harassment and retaliation, United Healthcare of Florida was asked to pay $1.8 million to an ex-employee who had to contend with repeated verbal sexual harassment from his boss. Note that the harasser, who was the former regional vice president of key accounts working out of the Sunrise facility, was reported to management several times by the victim, who was a senior account executive.

Also, note that complaints were even made to the CEO of the parent company, but no form of caution or action took place. According to testimonies, the company retaliated against him by denying him stock options and commissions, coupled with subjecting him to disciplinary measures.

At some point, the victim could no longer deal with the harassment and had to quit. The EEOC sued United Healthcare of Florida for sexual harassment and retaliation. The case was settled with a consent decree.

  1. Marija Stone v. GEICO General Insurance Company

Marija Stone was employed as GEICO supervisor in charge of auto liability claims in Lakeland, FL. According to court documents, one of her subordinates was a 57-year-old woman, who allegedly was not producing as well as younger workers in her unit.

Stone was ordered by her manager to dismiss the woman, and employ a younger candidate. Note that she objected to the order and chose not to fire the older worker.

Owing to that, she was terminated not long afterward. She then went on to sue GEICO for retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The jury initially awarded her $800,000, but this was reduced to $265,000 in response to post-trial motions.

  1. Carolyn Filippone v Rob Turner, Hillsborough County

Rob Turner was the Property Appraiser for Hillsborough County. He agreed under oath that he sent pornographic emails to a female colleague and ex-girlfriend, Carolyn Filippone consecutively between 2007 and 2009. Filippone refused the advances of her boss, and owing to that, lost some of her job duties and was banished to a satellite office.

Numerous times she reported the events to the EEOC, but the organization did not take action on her complaint. Soon a news outlet picked up news of the harassment and wanted to interview Turner. He fired Filippone as the article was being written. The case did not go to court, since mediation was successful. A mediation settlement of $135,000 was paid to the wrongfully terminated ex-employee.

  1. EEOC v Hurricane Grill and Wings (441 S.B. LLC.)

Hurricane Grill and Wings was a franchise restaurant in West Palm Beach. According to reports, a regular customer on numerous occasions harassed the female servers of the restaurant. The harasser would grab their breast and buttocks, and make unwelcome sexual advances.

Note that the employees reported this to the restaurant’s management, but they did nothing to remedy the situation. Also, note that one of the female servers was later dismissed after management learned that she was working with a lawyer to file an EEOC complaint. The class sexual harassment lawsuit was settled for $200,000.

  1. EEOC v Baptist Health South Florida Inc.

The EEOC sued the company on behalf of a general practitioner, Dr. Campos-Sackley, who had epilepsy. The doctor requested reasonable accommodation by limiting her work day to 8 hours. The employer refused her request and terminated her position.

Note that this was in clear violation of the ADA since employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to disabled employees unless it causes an undue hardship. Through a consent decree, Baptist Health South Florida, Inc., one of the largest health care companies in Southern Florida, paid a settlement of $215,000 to a wrongfully discharged doctor.

  1. EEOC v Nestlé Waters North America

Dawn Bowers-Ferrara worked for over 2 decades for Nestlé Waters in Tampa and rose to the position of business and finance manager with the company. She applied for a new job opening at the company, the position of Florida Zone Business Manager.

She was passed over the job in favor of a male applicant, who barely met the minimum requirements from the job description. She was dismissed soon afterward due to the “consolidation” of sales zones in Florida, yet she was the only zone manager to lose her job during the “consolidation”. All other zone managers were male.

She immediately believed that she was a victim of sex discrimination, especially owing to the fact that she was treated less favorably than males. The EEOC sued Nestlé on her behalf. The case was settled through a consent decree, with the victim receiving $300,000.

  1. Dennis Ratliff v Jacksonville University

Professor Ratliff was a tenured accounting teacher at Jacksonville University. Evidence showed that he was dismissed from his job in 2009, after being critical of the Dean in an email, and complaining about violations of university rules. Have it in mind that the university had by-laws when it comes to dismissing tenured professors, but they did not comply with these set rules with Ratliff. He sued the school for wrongful termination and was rewarded $500k by the jury.

  1. EEOC v Southeast Showclubs, LLC.

Quatavia Harden, who is African-American, was employed as a bartender for a Clearwater adult entertainment club, Bliss Cabaret. She was hired by the club manager, Patrick Frank. At some point, the owner of the establishment decided that he does not want any black waitresses working at the establishment; therefore, he ordered Frank to dismiss her.

According to reports, the manager objected to the racist behavior and refused to comply with the order. Owing to that, the manager was suspended and then dismissed. The bartender was also terminated. The EEOC sued the company for racial discrimination and retaliation. The owner of the business failed to appear in court, and as a result, $365k monetary relief was granted to the victims.

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