Should You Resign or Quit? Constructive Termination

Are you being forced to resign? Don’t quit before reading this:

You may have a claim for wrongful termination if, instead of firing you, your employer wrongfully makes conditions so intolerable that you are forced to resign. Employers often prefer to force individuals to resign rather than outright firing them as a means of undermining a potential lawsuit.
An employer set to force you to resign will typically put up the “writing on the wall” that your days at the Company are numbered in the hope that you will begin to look for another job. Some employers launch an outright retaliatory campaign (which may backfire because the adverse actions might end up further substantiating your claims). This is because many employers know that it is very difficult for an employee to prove a wrongful constructive discharge under California law. Courts look down upon individuals who “quit and sue.” Hence, the standard of proof that you as the plaintiff/claimant has to meet is set high. Depending on the unique circumstances of your situation, however, resigning might not affect your ability to pursue a lawsuit against your employer.
If you are in a hostile work environment due to unlawful discrimination or harassment, we urge you to speak to an attorney before deciding to quit your job in lieu of getting fired. The following is a general overview of a complicated legal analysis that is provided for informational purposes only and may or may not apply to your situation.
Generally, in order to prove a constructive discharge, you must show that your employer either intentionally created or knowingly permitted working conditions that were so intolerable or aggravated at the time of the employee’s resignation that a reasonable employee would realize that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would be compelled to resign.

Keep in mind that your subjective reaction is not as important as what a reasonable employeewould consider to be intolerable. According to California courts, a reasonable employee is someone with a tolerance for abuse.  In Gibson v. Aro Corp., the court of appeal held that “demotion of job level, even when accompanied by reduction in pay, does not constitute constructive discharge.”  32 Cal.App.4th 1628, 1635 (1995).  “Thus, the mere failure to promote the plaintiff, even if unlawfully discriminatory, will not support a finding of constructive discharge.”  Valdez v. City of Los Angeles,231 Cal.App.3d 1043, 1056 (1991).  “Nor is it sufficient to show only that the employee received a poor performance rating.”  Ibid.; see also Soules v. Cadam, Inc., 2 Cal.App.4th 390, 402 (1998)(explaining that “a single, isolated instance of employment discrimination is insufficient as a matter of law to support a finding of constructive discharge.”).  

To prevail, you must demonstrate “a continuous pattern of discriminatory treatment,” — the longer the better.  Valdez, 231 Cal.App.3d at 1057.  For example, in DesRosiers v. Hartford, the court held that from the circumstances of that case a jury could reasonably infer that the plaintiff was forced to resign.  Among other adverse actions, over the course of a year, the employer denied plaintiff’s multiple requests for a reasonable accommodation of her medical condition, issued undeserved reprimands, and encouraged her to find another job — all of which made her medical condition worse.   979 F. Supp. 2d 1036, 1052 (2013).  Of course, one incident could potentially validate a constructive discharge if it is sufficiently extreme.  

As previously stated, whether your situation merits legal action for constructive discharge depends on a multitude of factors. The foregoing was not an exhaustive analysis. If you are concerned about your situation, we urge you to contact an attorney regardless of whether you are let go.

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