Constructive Discharge

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by Gregory Williams, Esq. | Under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), RCW Chapter 49.60, may an employee base a claim of employment discrimination on their resignation of employment? Here’s my point of view (NOTE: please review our Disclaimer, Terms of Use & Privacy Policy before proceeding).

Employees that quit their job in the state of Washington due to unlawful discrimination and/or unlawful retaliation–stemming from engaging in activities protected by discrimination laws–might still be able to bring claims for relief against their former employer based on wrongful termination if they can establish that they were constructively discharged.

CONSTRUCTIVE DISCHARGE

As a preliminary matter, “a resignation in Washington is presumed to be voluntary, and the employee must introduce evidence to rebut that presumption.” Short v. Battle Ground School Dist., 169 Wn.App. 188, 207, 279 P.3d 902 (Wash.App. Div. 2 2012) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted), overruled on other grounds, Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., 180 Wn.2d 481, 325 P.3d 193 (Wash. 2014).

“[A] constructive discharge occurs where an employer deliberately makes an employee’s working conditions intolerable, thereby forcing the employee to resign.” Id. at 206 (citing Sneed v. Barna, 80 Wn.App. 843, 849, 912 P.2d 1035 (1996)) (internal quotation marks omitted). And Washington “courts have applied this doctrine where an employer has allegedly engaged in illegal discrimination or retaliation for protected conduct.” Id. (citing Barrett v. Weyerhaeuser Co. Severance Pay Plan, 40 Wn.App. 630, 632-33, 700 P.2d 338 (1985)).

THE ELEMENTS

Accordingly, “to establish constructive discharge, an employee must show (1) a deliberate act by the employer that made her working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person in her shoes would have felt compelled to resign, and (2) that she resigned because of her working conditions and not for some other reason.” Id. at 206 (citing Nielson v. AgriNorthwest, 95 Wash.App. 571, 578, 977 P.2d 613 (1999); Washington v. Boeing Co., 105 Wash.App. 1, 15, 19 P.3d 1041 (2000)).

INTOLERABLE WORKING CONDITIONS

The issue of “whether working conditions have risen to an ‘intolerable’ level is generally a factual question for the jury, unless there is no competent evidence to establish a claim of constructive discharge.” Id. at 207. (internal citations omitted). And “courts usually look for evidence of either ‘aggravating circumstances’ or a ‘continuous pattern of discriminatory treatment’ to support a constructive discharge claim.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE

However, “an employee’s frustration and even direct or indirect negative remarks are not enough to show intolerable working conditions and are generally insufficient to support a finding of constructive discharge.” Id. at 208 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Moreover, “a single isolated instance of discrimination” and/or hostile conduct occurring over a short time period are “generally insufficient as a matter of law to support a finding of constructive discharge.” See id. This “is consistent with the principle that our antidiscrimination law policies are best served when the parties attempt to remediate discrimination while continuing their existing employment relationships, if possible.” Id. 

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If you believe that you’ve been a victim of employment discrimination that caused you to resign, then consider contacting an experienced employment discrimination attorney as soon as possible to discuss your rights. If you wait too long to act, you may lose some or all of your rights in relation to your particular matter.

This article is not offered as legal advice and will not establish an attorney-client relationship with Williams Law Group, Law Office of Gregory A. Williams, P.S., inc., or the author of this article. Please read our Disclaimer, Terms of Use & Privacy Notice.

-gw