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How Your Resignation May Count as a ‘Termination’ When it Comes to Winning Your Discrimination Lawsuit

In some workplaces, employers may be very hesitant to fire employees. Sometimes, the employer may try to goad certain employees into resigning by making the job so unpleasant or unsatisfying that the employee quits. These employers hope that, by securing a resignation as opposed to issuing a termination, they’re dodging certain types of legal exposure, including liability for employment discrimination or harassment.

However, just because you resigned your job as opposed to being fired, that doesn’t automatically mean that you cannot win a discrimination case using the circumstances of your exit as the required “adverse employment action.” Sometimes, an employment setting may be so horrible that a reasonable person would see quitting as the right way forward. When that happens, that’s called a “constructive discharge,” and, as one recent case showed, it potentially can be just as effective in helping you win your discrimination case as if you’d been fired. To learn more about all the options you may have if you’ve suffered workplace discrimination, be sure to contact an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorney about your situation.

What does constructive discharge look like? The U.S. Supreme Court said in 2004 that constructive discharge occurs when the employees has proof that “the abusive working environment became so intolerable that … resignation qualified as a fitting response.”

In the recent case, J.L. worked for a university police department in 2009. Eventually, he resigned his job and sued for disability discrimination. J.L. had a skin condition that prevented him from shaving, but he allegedly received extensive teasing from co-workers and reprimands and punishments from above because of his beard. The Third Circuit federal appeals court, whose decisions impact federal cases in New Jersey, ruled that the employee had a potential case for disability discrimination.

In making that ruling, the court rejected the argument that the employee couldn’t win his case because he lacked evidence of an adverse action. The court stated that there are a variety of things that can back up a claim of constructive discharge (which J.L. had asserted in his lawsuit,) including being threatened with termination, being urged to quit or to retire, being demoted, being transferred to “a less desirable position,” having pay or benefits cut or receiving negative job performance evaluations.

J.L. had several pieces of evidence in these areas. His employer allegedly took away his police car and forced him to walk, stopped giving him overtime, took away field training assignments and threatened him with termination. J.L.’s proof was enough to create a viable case regarding “whether a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign,” according to the ruling.

There are lots of ways that employers can force an employee out of a job. One is through formal termination. However, even if you resigned, yours may have been a “termination” under the terms of discrimination law. In other words, there may be a variety of ways you can achieve success in court if you’ve been the victim of disability discrimination on the job. Don’t wait. Act promptly to contact the knowledgeable New Jersey employment discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Our attorneys are here to help you assess your situation and plot the best path forward. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how our knowledgeable attorneys can help you.

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