Employee quits, wins constructive discharge case

A case involving a 66 year old employee who won for age and disability discrimination shows how important “the little things” can be in a case.

The employee was hospitalized for anxiety and depression, and was out for one month. When she returned to work, she was given a new, demeaning assignment, and her hours were changed.

This may be unfair, but it is not illegal unless it is related to her age or disability. The only evidence that the employee had that it was age discrimination was (1) she was the oldest in her job category, (2) the company had a policy of mandatory retirement at age 70 (but she was not retired under that policy), and (3) two other employees had been asked to retire. Based on this, the jury found age discrimination and the court of appeals upheld it.

She produced no evidence of disability discrimination other than the fact that she was disabled, and the adverse actions happened after she returned from disability leave, and the court upheld disability discrimination, too.

The court also found that giving her demeaning assignments and changing her hours were sufficient to make her working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person would feel forced to quit, and therefore upheld the verdict that she was constructively discharged from employment.

Case synopsis:

A 66 year old employee had ten years of service with outstanding reviews. During the course of her employment, the company brought in a computer system, and she became a proficient user. Some years later, a new system was brought in. She attended one day of training, but the next day was hospitalized for depression and anxiety. She was in the hospital for two weeks, and remained off work another two weeks.

When she returned to work, her supervisor informed her that she would not be returning to her regular duties as a registrar but would instead be assigned to a newly created position. The position would require her to do work the court found a reasonable employee would find was demeaning and intolerable. It lengthened her working hours, so she would be forced to work after dark.

At trial, the employee presented evidence that at the time of the proposed transfer, the company had a policy mandating retirement at age seventy. Three years earlier, two other employees in the department had been asked to retire.

The employee also produced evidence demonstrating that her resignation was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the company’s actions. The new position required Parrish to work later hours, and she produced evidence that her supervisors knew she did not feel comfortable returning home from work after dark. Moreover, her immediate supervisor testified that she informed management that the employee would not take the proposed transfer.

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