What is (and is Not) a ‘Constructive Discharge’ from Your Job and Why It May Be So Important in Your California Discrimination Case

In any employment discrimination lawsuit in California, there are certain things that you absolutely must have in order to have a successful case. For example, one thing you must show is that you were harmed in some way at your job. This is something that the law calls an “adverse employment action.” With evidence of it, you could be well on your way to a successful outcome. Without it, you may be vulnerable to having your case thrown out of court before you ever get to trial. To be sure your case has this and other vital pieces for a positive result, be sure to obtain legal representation from an experienced Oakland employment attorney.

There are many different things that you can point to as the adverse action you suffered at your job. They include, among other things, being fired, being demoted, losing pay or benefits, having your hours reduced or being threatened with being reported to immigration authorities.

Notice that the first item on that list was “getting fired.” The fact that you resigned does not necessarily mean that you cannot pursue a discrimination case based upon your improper termination, however; it just means that you need additional proof in order to succeed. Specifically, as one case recently showed, you have to demonstrate that your resignation met the legal standards for something called a “constructive discharge.” A constructive discharge occurs when your employer makes the conditions of your job so objectively intolerable that a reasonable person would believe that she had no choice but to resign and leave. When that happens, your resignation is treated the same as if your employer fired you.

In that recent case, the employee was a white woman in her 40s who worked for a non-profit organization that provided affordable housing. The woman’s supervisor was an African-American man. According to the employee, she was the victim of both age discrimination and race discrimination. (As a reminder, you don’t have to be a racial minority to pursue a claim of race discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Even if you’re white, you can be entitled to an award of damages for race discrimination if you have the right proof.)

This employee’s problems at work came to a head in 2014. By August, she went out on medical leave. By December, she quit, asserting that hers was a “forced resignation.” A year and a half later, she filed her discrimination lawsuit.

The woman asserted that the adverse employment action in her case was the termination of her employment by the employer. The employee, however, had one big problem in her case: she resigned, and was not fired by the organization.

The conditions inflicted upon you must be ‘objectively… egregious’

On top of that, this employee lacked the kind of proof she needed to win her argument that she was constructively discharged. The evidence showed that the vice president of human resources informed her that the employer was not forcing her to resign, that the employer welcomed her to stay at her job, and that the vice president encouraged a meeting between the employee and her to discuss any concerns. The employee never gave the court any by the employer actions that were so objectively extreme and egregious that a reasonable person would see no choice but to quit.

If the employee had presented evidence that she was the object of constant screaming, yelling and intimidation, and/or that the treatment she received made her fear for her safety, then she might have had a valid argument for constructive discharge. However, this employee did not have anything like that, and her case fell short. With different proof, it’s possible the outcome could have been different, and more favorable, for this employee.

Success in a California discrimination case involves many things, but one of the fundamental ones is making sure that you have the evidence you need to meet all of the minimum requirements that California discrimination law demands. To be sure you’re doing that, have a resource on your side who is deeply familiar with the law and with achieving success in discrimination lawsuits. The experienced Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch are here to provide that kind of reliable representation. We have helped many people harmed by employment discrimination in the past and are ready to get to work for you. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.