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Protecting Employees Forced To Quit
The Employee's Voice And Advocate

Wrongful termination lawyers in Marion County, Florida serving central Florida

For almost two decades, our Marion County, Florida wrongful discharge attorneys have represented employees in fighting against abusive employment practices. Having long battled employers regarding their unfair employment practices, our employee rights attorneys know that employers often take actions intended to make employees quit. For example, employers will set an employee up to fail, bury an employee in work, reduce an employee’s hours, transfer an employee to an unfavorable position or location, or remove an employee from the work schedule. When employers make an employee’s working conditions so unpleasant or intolerable that the employee is forced to quit, the employee is considered to have been constructively discharged. Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, including Alachua, Citrus, Columbia, Marion, and Lake Counties, our Marion County, Florida wrongful termination lawyers are dedicated for fighting for the rights of employees who have been forced to quit because of abusive employment practices.

Employee Forced To Quit Is Constructively Discharged

A constructive discharge occurs when the employer, instead of directly firing the employee, creates an intolerable work atmosphere that forces the employee to quit involuntarily. When the employer forces the employee to resign because of intolerable working conditions, it is just like the employer fired the employee. Under the constructive discharge doctrine, as explained by the U.S. Supreme Court in Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129 (2004), an employee’s reasonable decision to resign because of intolerable working conditions is also equated to a formal discharge for remedial purposes. This means that because an employee who is constructively discharged is considered to have been terminated, the employee is entitled to recover lost wages from the employer just as if the employee had been terminated.

Forced To Quit Due To Intolerable Work Conditions

To successfully establish a claim of constructive discharge, an employee must demonstrate that his or her working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would be compelled to resign. As observed by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Carlson v. WPLG/TV-10, 956 F.Supp. 994 (S.D. Fla. 1996), an employee is not required to prove that the employer “specifically intended to force him to resign. In order to prevail on a constructive discharge claim.” Rather, as the Carlson court explained, “the question of whether a constructive discharge occurred depends on whether the employer, through its action, created working conditions that were intolerable to the employee.”

As the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals explained in Porter v. Erie Foods Intern., Inc., 576 F.3d 629 (7th Cir.2009), courts have “set a high bar” for constructive discharge claims. Before finding a constructive discharge, as pointed out by the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Hill v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 934 F.2d 1518 (11th Cir. 1991), courts “traditionally require a high degree of deterioration in an employee’s working conditions, approaching the level of intolerable.” As the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals stated in Suarez v. Pueblo Int’l, Inc., 299 F.3d 39 (1st Cir. 2000), it is not enough that an employee “suffered the ordinary slings and arrows that workers routinely encounter in a hard, cold world.”

Constructive Discharge Requires Unlawful Behavior

In a typical constructive discharge case, the employer does not overtly seek discontinuation of the employment relationship but the employee claims to be subjected to intolerable working conditions due to discriminatory, harassing, or retaliatory behavior. As observed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Green v. Brennan, 542 U.S. 129 (2016), the “constructive discharge doctrine contemplates a situation in which an employer discriminates against an employee to the point such that his working conditions become so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have felt compelled to resign.” “When the employee resigns in the face of such circumstances,” the Green court explained, the federal anti-discrimination laws “treat[ ] that resignation as tantamount to an actual discharge.”

In order for a constructive discharge claim to succeed, an employee generally must show that he or she was subjected to some form of unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. In other words, not only must the employee’s working conditions be intolerable, they must be intolerable because of unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Unless an employee was subjected to some form of unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, the employee generally does not have a cause of action for constructive discharge.

Must Give Employer Chance To Remedy Situation

To successfully prove a constructive discharge claim, an employee must also demonstrate that he or she gave the employer a reasonable opportunity to remedy the situation before quitting. As the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explained in Howard v. Burns Bros., Inc., 149 F.3d 835 (8th Cir. 1998), “if an employee quits without giving her employer a reasonable chance to work out the problem, then she has not been constructively discharged.” Thus, as observed by the Eighth Circuit in Sowell v. Alumina Ceramics, Inc., 251 F.3d 678 (8th Cir. 2001), an employee has the responsibility to act reasonably before choosing to resign, and “to act reasonably, an employee has an obligation not to assume the worst and not to jump to conclusions too quickly.”

To give the employer a sufficient opportunity to remedy the situation, an employee who believes that he or she has been subjected to unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation must complain about the perceived unlawful behavior. When complaining, the employee generally should utilize the employer’s established policies and procedures for lodging complaints of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. The employee’s complaint puts the employer on notice of the alleged discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, and obligates the employer to take action to remedy the situation.

After complaining about the discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, the employee must then give the employer a reasonable amount of time to correct the situation before quitting. If the unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation continues despite the employee’s complaint, the employer’s failure to take prompt and effective action to remedy the situation supports the employee’s claim that his or her working conditions became intolerable. In other words, if the employee’s complaint fell on deaf ears, then a reasonable person in the employee’s position would feel that he or she had no choice but to quit.

Unlawful Discrimination & Constructive Discharge

To successfully establish a constructive discharge claim in the employment discrimination context, an employee must show that his or her working conditions were intolerable because of unlawful employment discrimination. When an employee involuntarily resigns in order to escape intolerable working conditions to which he or she has been subjected because of race, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, or disability, the employer has committed a constructive discharge in violation of the anti-discrimination laws.

As the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals observed in Watson v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 823 F.2d 360 (9th Cir. 1987), generally “a single isolated instance of employment discrimination is insufficient as a matter of law to support a finding of constructive discharge.” Instead, for a constructive discharge claim to succeed in the employment discrimination context, an employee generally must show that his or her working conditions were intolerable because of continuous discrimination in the workplace.

In certain limited circumstances involving discriminatory acts which inflict direct economic harm against an employee, it is not necessary to satisfy the continuous discrimination requirement. For example, when an employee is subjected to a discriminatory adverse employment action, such as a demotion or transfer to a disadvantageous position, which inflicts direct economic harm against the employee, the employee may be able to successfully establish that his or her working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign. Likewise, when an employee is subjected to discriminatory threats of physical harm, it is not necessary to satisfy the continuous discrimination requirement. As explained by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Boumehdi v. Plastag Holdings, LLC, 489 F.3d 781 (7th Cir. 2007), “if continued employment would compromise an employee’s personal safety” courts “do not expect an employee to remain on the job while the employer tries to remedy the problem.”

Facts supporting a constructive discharge in the employment discrimination context include: denial of promotion; transfer to an undesirable position or location; lack of work-related assistance; demotion; reduction in hours or pay; repeated disciplinary action; discriminatory remarks; elimination of job duties; unrealistic performance requirements; unjustified negative performance evaluations; unequal pay; demeaning or threatening comments; failure to accommodate a disability in the face of repeated requests; and failure to investigate a discrimination complaint. Regardless of the facts used to support a constructive discharge claim in the employment discrimination context, the circumstances must be such that a reasonable person put in the same position would find it intolerable.

Unlawful Harassment & Constructive Discharge

In the majority of constructive discharge cases, an employee is forced to quit because of severe or pervasive discriminatory hostile work environment harassment. The federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit an employer from subjecting employees to a hostile work environment because of such individual’s race, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, or disability. When an employee is harassed because of a protected characteristic, and the harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile work environment, the harassment constitutes a violation of the federal anti-discrimination laws. When the hostile work environment becomes so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have felt compelled to resign, the employee has been constructively discharged.

To successfully establish a claim of constructive discharge in the hostile work environment harassment context, it is critical that the employee complain about the perceived discriminatory harassment before resigning. As observed by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Lee-Crespo v. Schering-Plough Del Caribe Inc., 354 F.3d 34 (1st Cir. 2003), a constructive discharge claim “takes into account how the employer responded to the [employee’s] complaints and whether it was likely that the harassment would continue.” Once the employee complains, if the employer takes prompt remedial action and prevents the harassment from continuing, the employee generally cannot establish that his or her working conditions were so intolerable as to force a reasonable person to resign. However, if the discriminatory harassment continues despite the employee’s complaint, the employee generally will be able to demonstrate that his or her working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign.

For a constructive discharge claim to succeed the hostile work environment harassment context, the employee must do more than simply show that the discriminatory harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile working environment. As the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals explained in Walton v. Johnson & Johnson Services, Inc., 347 F.3d 1272 (11th Cir. 2003), “the standard for proving constructive discharge is higher than the standard for proving a hostile work environment.” Thus, an employee must prove that his or her working conditions reached a level of severity or pervasiveness that exceeds the minimum required to prove a hostile work environment claim. Consequently, as observed by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Brooks v. City of San Mateo, 229 F.3d 917 (9th Cir. 2000), where an employee “fails to demonstrate the severe or pervasive harassment necessary to support a hostile work environment claim, it will be impossible for her to meet the higher standard of constructive discharge: conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person would leave the job.”

Unlawful Retaliation & Constructive Discharge

Under the federal anti-discrimination laws, employees are protected from retaliation when they complaint about perceived unlawful discrimination or harassment in the workplace. A common tactic used by employers who desire to punish employees who complain about discrimination or harassment is to force them to quit. Knowing they fact a potential retaliation lawsuit if they fire the complaining employee, employers mistakenly believe they can avoid liability for retaliation by making the employee’s work environment so difficult and unpleasant that the employee will simply quit. Having forced the employee to quit, the employer hopes that the employee will go away and go away quietly.

In the employment retaliation context, a constructive discharge generally stems from a culmination of retaliatory acts that occur after an employee complained about unlawful discrimination or harassment in the workplace. The continuous pattern of retaliatory acts leads the employee to reasonably believe that he or she has no chance for fair treatment. As explained by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Ogden v. Wax Works, Inc., 214 F.3d 999 (8th Cir. 2000), courts “have held that if an employee quits because she reasonably believes there is no chance for fair treatment, there has been a constructive discharge.”

As the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals observed in Williams v. Waste Management of Illinois, 361 F.3d 1021 (7th Cir. 2004), facts supporting a constructive discharge claim in the retaliation context “can consist of coworkers and supervisors being just plain mean, for example, subjecting an employee to humiliating, degrading, unsafe, and unhealthful, or otherwise significantly negative workplace environment not present before the complaint.” A continuation of unlawful discrimination or harassment following an employee’s complaint will also support a constructive discharge claim.

As in the employment discrimination context, facts supporting a constructive discharge in the employment retaliation context include: denial of promotion; transfer to an undesirable position or location; lack of work-related assistance; demotion; reduction in hours or pay; repeated disciplinary action; retaliatory remarks; elimination of job duties; unrealistic performance requirements; unequal pay; unjustified negative performance evaluations; demeaning or threatening comments; failure to accommodate a disability in the face of repeated requests; and failure to investigate a discrimination complaint. Regardless of the facts used to support a constructive discharge claim in the employment retaliation context, the circumstances must be such that a reasonable person would have been compelled to resign.

Employment Law Blog

As part of an on-going commitment to assist and educate employees in protecting themselves abusive employment practices, our Marion County, Florida wrongful discharge attorneys offer more information about constructive discharge in their employment law blog.

Consultation With Ocala Wrongful Discharge Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, including Alachua, Citrus, Columbia, Marion, and Lake Counties, our Marion County, Florida wrongful discharge attorneys have been litigating wrongful termination cases in Florida state and federal courts for almost twenty years. If you have been wrongfully fired or have been forced to resign because of intolerable working conditions, please contact our Marion County, Florida wrongful termination lawyers for a free initial consultation. You will receive personalized and individual attention from our employment law attorneys. Our employee rights law firm takes wrongful termination cases on a contingency fee basis and if we fail to recover on your behalf, we do not get paid. Our Marion County, Florida wrongful termination attorneys are ready to take your case and fight for your rights.

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