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Employee can’t claim constructive discharge on what might happen in workplace

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in Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Maternity Leave Laws

Some employees try to fabricate a lawsuit by resigning and then alleging that some form of discrimination made their working conditions so intolerable that they had no choice but to quit. The name of this claim: constructive discharge.

Fortunately for employers, it takes more than a few isolated comments to create intolerable conditions. And, as the following case shows, the fear that working conditions will become intolerable isn’t enough to justify quitting before things get bad at work.

Recent case: Nicole Dent worked with her husband as a merchandiser. The two traveled across the country delivering and arranging displays of merchandise at beauty supply stores. When Dent became pregnant, her doctor placed travel and lifting restrictions on her work. As a result, she was taken off the schedule.

But then Dent’s doctor removed the travel restrictions, and her husband agreed to do any heavy lifting on site, so she was allowed back to work.

Meanwhile, Dent claimed her supervisor had made a series of anti-pregnancy comments. She said he asked her if she was “still pregnant” and commented that his own pregnant wife was always going to doctor’s appointments. Dent perceived the comments to be a sign the manager was critical of her decision to have a child.

She quit and sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination and constructive discharge.

The charges hinged on what might happen. Dent argued that, even if the comments and working conditions she had endured up until the point she resigned weren’t severe enough to justify leaving, her fear that conditions would deteriorate further was enough to make her quit.

The court rejected her claims. First, it said that she hadn’t been constructively discharged, since the average employee wouldn’t consider the conditions severe enough to quit. Second, the court said fear of poor conditions in the future can’t justify quitting today. (Dent v. Davaco, No. 3:08-CV-1713, SD TX, 2009)

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