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Constructive discharge claim requires showing more than hostile work environment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employees who quit and sue have a tough case to make if they allege they had no choice but to quit because conditions were so terrible. First, they must demonstrate that poor treatment created a hostile work environment.

However, they must also show an additional, aggravating factor such as a demotion or pay cut, harassment aimed at making the employee quit or other extreme circumstances. Unless there’s an additional factor, a hostile work environment isn’t enough to win such a constructive discharge suit.

Recent case: Dr. Naiel Nassar worked for the University of Texas Medical Center. His supervisor made several unflattering comments about doctors of Middle Eastern origin, like Nassar. For example, she called Middle Easterners lazy. She also criticized Nassar for his billing and work ethic.

Nassar quit, expecting to be hired by a related clinic. In his resignation letter, he spoke out against his supervisor. When the clinic didn’t hire him, he sued, alleging constructive discharge and retaliation.

A jury awarded him $430,000 in lost wages and $3 million in damages, concluding he had been both constructively discharged and retaliated against.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in part and sent the damages award back for recalculation. It concluded that, while Nassar might have worked in a hostile work environment, he hadn’t shown an aggravating factor like demotion. (Nassar v. University of Texas, et al., No. 11-10338, 5th Cir., 2012)

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