I had a terrific career up until an accusation was made against me outside of work. I have a complicated employment dispute and need some assistance determining if my termination is grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. I have secured an employment attorney and it seems as though I do have a case however it's complicated and will require significant effort. In a nutshell, my employer is in Missouri and I am familiar with at-will employment. Pending the resolution of a non-work-related criminal case, I was placed on unpaid suspension. An agreement was made by my employer contingent on the resolution of my case. My employer broke their contract/agreement and terminated me after two years.
Approximately three years ago I was wrongly accused of a crime, the accusation resulted in criminal charges against me. My Employer had no prior experience with this type of circumstance where accusations outside of work lead to criminal charges. My employer is a privately owned company with approximately 5,000 employees across the united states and abroad. My employer became aware of the criminal charges when my name and arrest were published in a local mom and pop newspaper. An employee recognized my name and made the decision to forward the article to our HR department. On that morning I asked my boss and his boss to meet me at the office to inform them of the unfortunate news regarding being charged wrongfully. As expected, they were in support of me and vowed to protect me and secure my job. Unfortunately, they had no time to go on the offense because as we were meeting security interrupted and asked that my boss and I follow him to the HR Department.
In HR we met with an HR director who explained that someone sent a news article about charges being placed against me. I did my best to explain what lead to the charges and assured them that these were accusations that were uncorroborated and factually false. HR explained that this was something they had never dealt with and would need to investigate to decide how to proceed. They told me they could offer me a severance if I had any desire to part ways. My response was Absolutely Not, I did nothing wrong and would not even consider a severance, it was offensive. Next, I was told that I was going to be placed on unpaid suspension until they conclude their so-called investigation. They would decide my fate following the investigation.
After about one and a half weeks I received a call, they had decided and asked that I attend a conference call with the HR Director and my direct manager. This is what they decided. They made a verbal agreement which was contingent on the resolution of my criminal case. Upon a favorable dissolution of my criminal case, they agreed to the following.
1. Employment would continue but as inactive and under unpaid suspension
2. Healthcare benefits would continue for six-months at the employee rate.
3. Upon resolution of my criminal case, they would provide six months of salary
4. Upon resolution of my criminal case, they would reinstate my employment to active and I would return to full-time employment
This was the decision and agreement made by HR and in Witness of my acting manager. Although my manager has since left the company, he has confirmed that this was the agreement and he is a witness.
After our meeting, I remained in contact with the HR director informing him of my ongoing progress with the criminal case. I repeatedly asked if they would provide me with something in writing stating the details of our agreement. They responded by saying they were not prepared to place what we agreed to in writing.
Over the course of the next couple of years, I contacted HR, Company Owner/CEO, VP HR, and asked if they would reconsider my suspension as wanted to work. I offered options and suggestions and explained the hardships I have experienced as a result of not having an income, but as well the difficulties finding employment with pending charges. They all responded by telling me that until there is a resolution in my criminal case there is nothing they can do at this time.
About a month and a half ago I sent another email to HR. I provided an update that things were looking positive as expected with my case and we were nearing the finish line. I explained that the case was on hold due to the pandemic but would be resolved once the courts open. A few days after I received an email from the HR director telling me that it has been two years and they decided to terminate my employment. They told me if I signed a severance agreement, I would get four weeks of salary. I responded by reminding them of the agreement they made with me. I asked them about the six months of salary promised upon resolution. They responded by saying the agreement was never intended to be open-ended therefore they would not be providing me with the six months of salary. Again, I reminded him of the terms and conditions they decided on and that the agreement was until resolution of my criminal case. They continued to press me to sign the severance agreement, even having the nerve to say we are trying to help you by offering you four weeks of pay. Ultimately, I did not sign the severance agreement and made it clear that they violated their agreement and felt it was unethical. I reminded them that they had a choice and could have handled these countless other ways. They made an agreement with me and a verbal contract. Their decision to make a verbal contract makes at-will employment no longer applicable. Therefore, I feel as if I have a valid argument and legal recourse. I would appreciate feedback and opinions. I have secured legal representation but would like to know if I have a legitimate case.