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Sour environment doesn’t warrant constructive discharge

by on
in Employment Law,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Employees who believe they are being discriminated against and can no longer tolerate their work environments may quit and sue, claiming they had no choice. That’s the basis for a “constructive discharge” claim. It usually arises when a supervisor is trying to drive an employee out, getting him or her to quit voluntarily.

But it takes more than an unpleasant work environment to justify the resignation as constructive discharge.

Recent case: Donna Peterson worked as an HR officer with responsibility for screening applicants. Peterson is white and had a black supervisor. When Peterson did not include a black candidate in a final candidate pool for one job search, the supervisor became angry.

Peterson filed an EEOC complaint and then claimed the supervisor was harassing her by yelling at her, denying some work opportunities and having her expense accounts scrutinized. She quit and sued.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her claims, reasoning that, at most, she had been forced to work in a “frustrating work situation”—one that wasn’t bad enough to justify quitting. A reasonable person in Peterson’s situation would not have been compelled to quit, the court concluded. (O’Brien, et al., v. Department of Agriculture, No. 07-2274, 8th Cir., 2008)

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