While fans of the long running television reality show Survivor may suggest the timing of this post is geared to the events of last night’s episode that featured two players who quit, there are actually two recent and noteworthy cases in Connecticut that show that employees who quit their jobs rare win discrimination claims that they may later bring.
In Giaquinto v. Danbury Board of Education (download here), the District Court granted the employer’s motion to dismiss an employee’s age discrimination claim because the employee failed to show a "constructive discharge."
A constructive discharge is essentially the legal term that courts use to say that an employee’s resignation was justified. A constructive discharge exists if an employer deliberately creates working conditions so unpleasant or difficult that a reasonable individual would feel compelled to resign. That standard has been fairly consistent over the years.
In Giaquinto, the plaintiff — an assistant Principal at a middle school for nearly 35 years — claimed he felt compelled to resign at age 64 after the school superintendent said to school administrators "You older guys better get with the program or you can leave" and told the employee he was insubordinate. The court said:
Although the statement allegedly made by the Superintendent to the defendant’s older administrators smacks of an age oriented attitude, such an isolated statement is insufficient to demonstrate working conditions so unpleasant or difficult that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign.
In Miller v. Praxair, the Second Circuit affirmed the granting of summary judgment to an employer in a case where the employee claimed she was forced to resign. The court found that the conditions were not bad enough to be compelled to resign. As the court said, she alleges working conditions that "largely amount to the sort of routine disagreements with supervisors or mild conditions that are simply insufficient to establish the sort of ‘intolerable’ working conditions necessary to a constructive discharge claim."
Notably, after she quit, "defendants made repeated attempts to convince her to stay, and, accordingly, no rational trier of fact could conclude that a reasonable person in her position would have felt that her employer deliberately sought to make her working conditions so intolerable that she had no choice but to resign."
These cases both demonstrate the significant hurdles that employees must overcome to present a constructive discharge claim. For employers who are defending such claims, these cases illustrate the importance of making this a central element of a defense.