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New York Court Discusses Constructive Discharge in Employment Cases

November 3, 2020

In any employment discrimination case in New York, the plaintiff must not only demonstrate that the employer engaged in discriminatory practices but also that such behavior adversely impacted the plaintiff’s employment. Many acts may constitute an adverse action, including actual and constructive termination. Recently, a New York court discussed what constitutes constructive discharge in a case in which the plaintiff alleged he had to stop working because of sexual harassment. If you needed to stop working because of harassment in the workplace, you should meet with a seasoned New York sexual harassment attorney to assess whether you may be able to pursue a claim for damages.

The Alleged Harassment

Reportedly, the plaintiff was employed by the defendant as a car inspector from 2006 through 2017. He was diagnosed with numerous psychiatric disorders, for which he took medication. He began experiencing taunts from his coworkers in 2009 when they learned their supervisor preferred the plaintiff to other workers. In 2016, a coworker made a sexual comment to the plaintiff, which the plaintiff reported. Later that year, the same coworker placed a note expressing sexual thoughts inside of the plaintiff’s pocket, which the plaintiff reported as well.

Allegedly, the plaintiff’s coworkers then began teasing him about his mental health issues. Plaintiff submitted a complaint and then took a vacation. After he returned from vacation, he quit. He ultimately filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that he was subjected to a hostile work environment due to sexual harassment and discrimination because of his mental illness. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.

Constructive Discharge Under New York Law

The plaintiff alleged that the adverse employment action suffered was a constructive discharge. Under New York law, constructive discharge is sufficient to support a claim of retaliation in an employment discrimination case. An employee will be constructively discharged if an employer purposely creates an intolerable work atmosphere so that the employee is compelled to quit involuntarily instead of being terminated by the employer.

To demonstrate constructive discharge, an employee must produce evidence beyond what is needed to show a hostile work environment or support a retaliation claim, to prove that resigning was a fitting response. Work conditions will be deemed intolerable when, as a whole, they are so unpleasant or difficult that a reasonable person in the employee’s situation would have felt the need to resign. An employee does not have to show intent; rather, it is sufficient to show that the employer acted deliberately.

In the subject case, the court found that no jury could find that the employee’s work environment was intolerable and forced him to resign. Thus, it ultimately entered judgment in favor of the defendant, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims.

Meet With an Experienced New York Attorney

Employees do not have to be fired to prove liability for unjust employment practices. If you quit because of harassment in the workplace, you may be owed damages and should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. The experienced New York sexual harassment attorneys of Gerstman Schwartz LLP possess the skills and resources needed to help aggrieved employees recover damages, and we will work tirelessly to help you pursue a favorable outcome. We can be reached through our online form or by calling us at our office in Manhattan at (212) 227-7070 or our office in Garden City at (516) 880-8170 to set up a conference.

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