Friday, March 21, 2014

Can I Just Quit and Claim Constructive Discharge?

If you want to sue your employer for losing your job, it generally helps if you were fired instead of quitting. However, under some circumstances, employees can claim they were "constructively discharged."

A recent Middle District of Pennsylvania case reiterated the "Clowes factors" that federal courts in the Third Circuit (including Pennsylvania) use to determine whether an employer constructively discharged an employee:
(1) threat of discharge; 
(2) suggesting or encouraging resignation; 
(3) a demotion or reduction of pay or benefits; 
(4) involuntary transfer to a less desirable position; 
(5) alteration of job responsibilities; and 
(6) unsatisfactory job evaluations.
Woods v. Salisbury Behavioral Health, Inc., 3:CV-13-539, 2014 WL 957342 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 12, 2014); quoting Clowes v. Allegheny Valley Hosp., 991 F.2d 1159 (3d. Cir. 1993).

I should note that the Clowes factors are not necessarily determinative. Courts engage in a broader inquiry: "an objective test to determine whether an employee can recover on a claim of constructive discharge ... [specifically,] whether a reasonable jury could find that the employer permitted conditions so unpleasant or difficult that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign." Woods; quoting Duffy v. Paper Magic Group, Inc., 265 F.3d 163, 167 (3d Cir.2001).