I quit my job! Can I still sue my employer? | Employee Rights Law Firm

Mar 5, 2019

Like many employment-related questions, the answer to this one is not so cut and dry.

Sometimes your workplace environment is so negative, hostile, and toxic that you feel you have no option but to quit. But what is your recourse if you feel you were subjected to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation during your employment Generally speaking, in order to pursue claims for discrimination, retaliation, or wrongful termination, your employer must have subjected you to something called an “adverse employment action” – such as a termination or demotion. So if you voluntarily quit your job, you might think you would not be able to say that you were wrongfully terminated or discharged.

However, there is a legal term called “Constructive Discharge,” which basically means that your employer created or knowingly permitted working conditions to exist that were so intolerable that a reasonable person in your position would have had no reasonable alternative but to resign1. It also must be true that you actually resigned because of the intolerable working conditions. So let’s take a look at a fictional example to help illustrate2:

Rachel works in a factory and has worked for her company for three years. Her first two years of employment were satisfactory and she loved going to work. However, in the last year or so, things started going from bad to worse. Some of Rachel’s co-workers started making derogatory comments about her, in reference to her gender (often times she was the only female working her shift). Rachel’s co-workers also made inappropriate sexual jokes that she found extremely offensive and demeaning toward women.

Rachel complained to her supervisor, but nothing was ever done. She also made multiple reports to Human Resources, but again, nothing was done. Instead, after Rachel took her complaint to Human Resources, she received backlash from her supervisor and her co-workers. Her co-workers started referring to her as “Rachel the Rat,” and mostly ignored her, making it extremely difficult for Rachel to carry out her job duties. Rachel’s mistreatment and harassment at work was becoming so severe that it was causing her to have physical symptoms due to all of the stress and anxiety she was experiencing. She continued to report her complaints to both her supervisor and to Human Resources, but nothing was ever done. In fact, her supervisor even told her she should just “toughen up” or look for another job. Ultimately, the treatment became so severe that Rachel felt she had no option but to quit for the sake of her health and overall well-being. She turned in her resignation letter, and in it stated that she could no longer take the harassing treatment and hostile work environment; and that because it was clear that nothing would be done about it, she felt she had no choice but to quit.

This is an example, where even though Rachel ended up voluntarily quitting her job, it would be worth it for her to consult an attorney to explore whether or not she might have legal claims against her former employer. As previously mentioned, constructive discharge claims are usually not very cut and dry, and there can be many traps for the unwary. If you are currently in what you believe to be a hostile work environment and are thinking about quitting your job as a result, it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced employment attorney to discuss your situation. Feel free to reach out to our team at Potter Handy, LLP.

1CACI Jury Instruction 2510.
2This example is for illustrative purposes only. Potter Handy, LLP makes no assurances or guarantees about the strength or validity of any potential claims with a similar set of facts.

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