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Beware constructive discharge: When work is so intolerable, employee feels he must quit

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Every once in a while, an employee is such a pain in the neck that a manager wishes he would just quit. Methodically, the boss makes life increasingly difficult for the problem child. Finally, the employee resigns. Problem solved, right?

Wrong! Now the employee can sue, claiming “constructive discharge”—essentially that he had no choice but to quit.

Recent case: Antonio Lawler, who is Hispanic, taught a noncredit course in welding at El Paso Community College.

He had a state teaching certificate, but no degree in welding technology or a related field.

When the community college added an associate degree program in welding, another instructor was hired to teach the credit courses, while Lawler continued teaching the noncredit course. The new hire was not Hispanic.

Lawler protested, claiming he was passed over because of his race or national origin. After an investigation, the administration concluded both men were qualified to teach the credit courses because the new instructor held the same teaching certificate as Lawler.

When Lawler started teaching the credit course, he was ordered to use a new course outline. He refused, arguing that the college didn’t have the right equipment to cover the material in the allotted time.

Then he quit and sued, alleging the community college had made his work intolerable in retaliation for his prior EEOC complaints.

The court said Lawler had enough evidence for a trial. Given his explanation that the college’s course requirement made it impossible to teach the class, the court said insisting that Lawler use the new outline might be enough to force him to quit. (El Paso Community College v. Lawler, No. 08-08-00174, Court of Appeal of Texas, 2010)

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