June 22, 2020

Test used by courts to resolve a former employee's constructive dismissal claim

The Plaintiff [Petitioner] in this action alleged that she had worked for the City of New York in a variety of positions and left her job in 2015 after complaining of gender-based harassment by her supervisor [S]. 

Petitioner subsequently brought a lawsuit against the Employer [Defendant] asserting a variety of claims, including suffering a hostile work environment, retaliation, and constructive discharge in violation of New York City'a Human Rights Law [NYCHRL], as well as common-law battery. At the close of Plaintiff's case at trial, the district court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment as a matter of law to the with respect to Petitioner's constructive discharge claim while allowing her other claims to proceed. 

The jury found for Plaintiff on her hostile work environment and retaliation claims. The district court, however, denied Plaintiff's motion seeking reconsideration of its constructive discharge ruling and Plaintiff filed a timely appeal in the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

Petitioner argued that the standard for constructive discharge under the NYCHRL "is unclear and, consequently, [the Circuit Court] should certify this case to [New York State's] Court of Appeals for clarification as to the proper standard." The Circuit Court disagreed, holding that under any standard advanced by Petitioner the facts she relied upon in this action were insufficient to state a constructive discharge claim.*

Citing Crookendale v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, 175 A.D.3d 1132, the Circuit Court said in Crookendale the court held that the standard for constructive discharge under the NYCHRL is whether "the defendant deliberately created working conditions so intolerable, difficult or unpleasant that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign.” In so stating, opined the Circuit Court, the Appellate Division "appeared to confirm that the standard remains unchanged under the amended NYCHRL and that it mirrors the federal standard."**

Observing that Plaintiff acknowledged that any standard for constructive discharge relevant to this case will require  deliberate actions taken by an employer to be sufficient to cause a reasonable person to feel compelled to resign,*** the Circuit Court concluded that the circumstances present in Petitioner's employment situation were not such that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign, indicating that:

1. After complaining that she was being subjected to S's harassment, Petitioner continued to receive scheduled raises and remained in her position;

2. Petitioner's complaints concerning S resulted in the initiation of an EEO investigation; and

3. Defendant assigned Petitioner to a different supervisor and offered her employment in at least one other position where she would not be supervised by S, the individual that was the genesis of her complain.

As to Petitioner's complaint that her work assignments were reduced, the Circuit Court said that element is typically not considered sufficient to compel a reasonable person to resign, citing Petrosino v. Bell Atl., 385 F.3d 210. The  Petrosino court noted that “the law is clear that a constructive discharge claim cannot be proved by demonstrating that an employee is dissatisfied with the work assignments she receives within her job title” and that a reduction in responsibilities would not “support [an employee’s] constructive discharge claim”.

After addressing additional arguments in support of her claim of constructive discharge advanced by Petitioner, the Circuit Court held that her constructive discharge claim "fails under any standard she proposes here" and affirmed the judgment of the district court. 


* In determining whether a hostile work environment has been established, courts consider the totality of the circumstances, including the nature, frequency, and severity of the conduct as well as whether the conduct interferes unreasonably with an employee's work performance. 

** The Circuit Court said "to be clear, New York courts have expressed the view, as Petitioner asserts, that the proper standard for constructive discharge claims under the amended NYCHRL has not been fully articulated."

** In Green v. Brennan, 136 S. Ct. 1769, the court held that the “constructive-discharge doctrine contemplates a situation in which an employer discriminates against an employee to the point such that his working conditions become so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have felt compelled to resign”.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
https://www.leagle.com/decision/infco20200603100




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