Marie Rogai, the former principal of Cardinal O'Hara High School, has filed a lawsuit against Archdiocese of Philadelphia alleging that she was fired for not smiling enough, according to Philly.com.
Most positions are at-will employment, which means that employers can pretty much terminate your job at any time for almost any reason.
However, even if the employment is at-will, employers can still be sued for wrongful termination if they fire a worker for illegal reasons.
Reason to Legally Fire Someone
At-will employment gives employers wide latitude to fire an employee. In general, employers don't need to have good cause to terminate employment. However, employers often wait until they have good cause to let an employee go.
Employees can be legally fired if they constantly cause trouble among their co-workers or have frequent absences. Other legitimate termination reasons could include aesthetic ones, like an employee who wears inappropriate outfits to work or who refuses to wear his or her company uniform.
So while not smiling enough may seem like an absurd reason to fire someone, if maintaining a sunny disposition was part of the job as a principal, then it could be a lawful reason to fire Rogai, unless the termination was based on discriminatory reasons.
While employers can fire employees for various of reasons, a good employment law attorney will warn employers that there are several illegal reasons to fire someone that could result in a lawsuit. Illegal reasons for firing an employee include:
- Discrimination: It's illegal to fire an employee based on their race, gender, national origin, religion, age, and disability. For example, it's illegal to fire a worker simply based on the fact that he or she wasn't born in the United States. Often "arbitrary" reasons for firing an employee are revealed to be thin pretexts for discrimination based on one of these protected factors.
- Retaliation: If you fire an employee because he or she asserted his or her federal and state anti-discrimination rights against you, you might be opening your company up to a lawsuit. Along the same lines, if an employee reports an OSHA violation, it's unlawful for employers to fire him or her because of the report.
- Violations of public policy: Firing an employee for refusing to do something the general public would think is morally reprehensible is also problematic -- especially if it involves an illegal act. An employer who asks an employee to commit or condone an illegal act -- like looking the other way on fraudulent wage and hour practices -- cannot legally fire him or her for refusing to do so.
If it's later revealed that Rogai was fired for unlawful reasons, like for her gender, and not because she didn't smile enough, she may be successful in her lawsuit.
- O'Hara Principal Fired, Says She Fended Off Harassment (Philadelphia Magazine)
- OK to Fire Worker for Looking for Another Job? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- Top 10 Legal Tips for Firing an Employee (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- Just How 'At Will' Is At-Will Employment? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)