The poet Gertrude Stein wrote that a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” In employment law, though, sometimes a resignation is not a resignation. Workers and employers should be aware that, if there’s evidence that a worker was forced by intolerable conditions to resign, the law will consider that resignation the equivalent of a termination. That includes things like sexual harassment so bad that it negatively affects a worker’s psychological well-being. If you have questions about a situation such as this, whether you’re an employer or an employee, make sure you’re getting reliable answers by talking to an experienced Atlanta sexual harassment lawyer.
As an example, we can look at the sexual harassment case of A.C., a woman working as a security officer for an Acworth-based company. The federal court for the Northern District of Georgia issued an important ruling this past May in the case (originally filed in 2021) in which it clarified what plaintiffs do and don’t need to establish a constructive discharge based on sexual harassment.
Less than a year after the woman started, a male coworker allegedly began sexually harassing her. The alleged harassment included making “lewd statements,” “touching her in an ‘unwelcome and inappropriate’ manner,” and cornering her in a closet while threatening sexual contact.
The woman reported the harassment to her supervisor, a regional manager, and the owners. Less than two weeks after she made those reports, the employer reduced her rate of pay from $12 per hour to $10 per hour, according to the lawsuit.
The employer did not investigate the complaint, but instead told the woman that she “should expect to suffer harassment and sexually charged attacks because of her appearance,” according to the complaint. Allegedly, the owners also informed the woman that they “would not offer any protection, assistance, or redress” to her.
Believing that her job included likely future harassment, the woman resigned.
Following that resignation, a lawsuit ensued that alleged constructive discharge. The employer tried to get the lawsuit dismissed but was unsuccessful.
Employers and employees should know that the law holds a worker pursuing a constructive discharge claim to a higher standard of proof than a worker seeking relief based on a hostile work environment.
Requires a Change in the ‘Terms and Conditions’ of Employment
When you, as a worker, endured sexual harassment at work that was so bad that you reasonably felt you had no other option but to quit, you may pursue a constructive discharge claim. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says this type of discharge occurs when “the employer discriminatorily creates working conditions that are so difficult, unpleasant, or intolerable that a reasonable person… would feel compelled to resign. In other words, the aggrieved person is essentially forced to resign,” making the resignation the functional equivalent of a firing.
To show that, you need to allege facts that the harassment you encountered was significant enough that it changed the “terms and conditions” of your employment.
The Acworth employer based much of its case on the alleged fact that A.C. had been transferred to a different job in a different location that placed her away from her harasser — and that A.C. was no longer enduring harassment as a result. This argument failed to persuade the court. As the judge pointed out in ruling against the employer, “allegations that an employee has to take physical action to avoid interacting with an alleged harasser are sufficient to support a reasonable inference both that the conduct affected her psychological well-being (and thereby her terms of employment) and unreasonably interfered with her job.”
Workplace sexual harassment is a serious matter. Whether you are a worker encountering harassment or an employer facing a harassment claim, you can count on the experienced Atlanta sexual harassment attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert to clearly explain your rights and legal options, as well as provide you with the knowledgeable advice and effective advocacy you deserve. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation today.