To make a "constructive discharge" claim, employees must show that their working conditions were so intolerable that they had no choice but to quit and that those conditions amounted to discrimination based on age, race, sex or some other protected characteristic.
But, as a new ruling shows, an employee's subjective "fear of future discipline" isn't grounds for a lawsuit under this constructive-discharge theory. This is good news for employers that want to enforce workplace rules aggressively.
Recent case: John Witsch, a 49-year-old Newark police officer, retired after his boss charged him with violating several work rules. Although Witsch received a fair hearing and the city took no disciplinary action against him, he retired anyway. He then sued for age discrimination, alleging that the threat of future disciplinary hearings made the job so stressful that he had no choice but to quit.
The court dismissed the case, saying a subjective fear of future discipline isn't reason to claim constructive discharge. Also, because the boss aggressively enforced work rules against everyone regardless of age, no discrimination took place. (Witsch v. City of Newark, No. 05-2467, 3rd Cir., 2006)
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