Employers may not fire even at-will employees for illegal reasons, and discrimination is illegal. If you believe you were fired because of your race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, pregnancy, or genetic information, you should talk to a lawyer right away. There are strict time limits and rules that apply to discrimination claims; for example, you must file a complaint of discrimination with a state or federal agency before you may sue your employer in court.

Employers are forbidden from retaliating against employees who have engaged in certain legally protected activities. To show that you lost your job as a result of your employer's retaliation, you must prove all of the following:

>You were engaged in a legally protected activity—such as filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or formally complaining to your employer about harassment or discrimination.
>That activity prompted your employer to act—for example, you were reprimanded just after your employer found out that you filed a charge of sexual harassment.
>Your employer's action had adverse consequences for you—for example, you were fired, denied a promotion, or given a negative performance review that was unwarranted.

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In extreme cases, an employer's actions when firing a worker are so devious and wrong that they rise to the level of fraud. Fraud is commonly found in the recruiting process (where promises are made and broken) or in the final stages of employment (such as when an employee is induced to resign).

To prove that your job loss came about through fraud, you must show all of the following:

>your employer made a false representation
>someone in charge knew of the false representation
>your employer intended to deceive you (or tried to induce you to rely on the representation)
>you actually did rely on the representation, and
>you were harmed in some way by your reliance on the representation.

The hardest part of proving fraud is showing that the employer acted badly on purpose, in an intentional effort to trick you. That requires good documentation of how, when, to whom, and by what means the false representations were made.

A lawsuit for defamation is meant to protect a person's reputation and good standing in the community. To prove that defamation was a part of your job loss, you must show that—in the process of terminating your employment or subsequently providing references—your former employer made false and malicious statements about you that harmed your chances of finding a new job.

To win a case of defamation, you must prove that the hurtful words were more than petty watercooler gossip. True defamation must be factual information, and it must be false. 

Whistle-Blowing Violations
Whistle-blowing laws protect employees who report activities that are unlawful or harm the public interest. Some states protect whistle-blowers who complain that their employer broke any law, regulation, or ordinance at all. Other states give employees whistle-blower protection only when they report that their employer broke certain laws, such as environmental regulations or labor laws.

For more information about whistle-blowing, visit the National Whistleblowers Center at www.whistleblowers.org or The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program at https://www.whistleblowers.gov/​.