Intolerable Working Conditions by Ben Husmann
What is a Constructive Discharge?
The constructive discharge doctrine was created to prevent employers from forcing employees into resigning by engaging in covert, calculated misconduct that would be illegal if it were done overtly.
It is unlawful to to discharge an employee in Minnesota in a manner inconsistent with or elaborated in M.S.A. § 363A.08 either overtly, explicitly, or constructively.
Constructive discharge is a way employers get rid of an employee without formally terminating the employee. The employer typically alters the employee’s working conditions or creates a working environment that is so intolerable that the employee will quit his job.
What are the Tests/Elements of Constructive Discharge?
The court in Pribil v. Archdiocese of St. Paul 533 N.W.2d 410 Minn. App. (1995) held that an employee wishing to show that he was constructively discharged must show: (1) she was subjected to intolerable working conditions, (2) as judged by a reasonable person standard, and (3) that the intolerable conditions were either created by the employer with the intent of forcing the employee to quit or that the employee’s resignation was reasonably foreseeable to the employer.
The employee claiming constructive discharge may satisfy the “intent” requirement through direct or circumstantial evidence, or the intent can be inferred by showing that the employee’s resignation was a reasonably foreseeable result of the employer’s conduct.
What are Examples and Holdings of Constructive Discharge from Important Minnesota Cases?
Often times, a demotion, a severe cut in someone’s work hours, assigning the employee a work schedule that is less desirable and drastically contrary to the one the employee accepted at the time employment commenced, reassigning the employee to an out-of-state location against the employee’s wishes for no extra compensation are all evidence of constructive termination. When an employee in Waldron v. Lyman Lumber Co., an unpublished opinion by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, was reassigned from his job in Minnesota to a location in Washington despite his desire not to be relocated, and several attempts to be relocated back in Minnesota, the Court held this to be evidence of constructive termination.
The United State Supreme Court Case Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129 held that a woman who claimed sexual harassment against her supervisors and was subsequently demoted as a result of her claim, was constructively terminated.
What is Other Helpful Information on Constructive Discharge?
If the employee is an at-will employee, the discharge has no consequences for the employer unless the discharge was motivated by an unlawful reason. Courosolle v. EMC Ins. Group, Inc. 794 N.W. 2D 652 Minn. App. (2011)
The easiest way to prove a constructive discharge is to show that the employee was discriminated against. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 § 701 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e), conduct that establishes a constructive discharge also may support an award for damages of emotional distress.
Hostile work environment, for which an employer may incur liability, is a separate doctrine from constructive discharge and has different requirements of proof.
Constructive discharge is a companion tort. Huyuen v. Driscoll, 479 N.W.2d 76 Minn. App. (1991) asserts that a party alleging Constructive discharge must establish the underlying illegality. Typically, this tort comes in conjunction with a civil rights violation, a whistleblower action, another tort, or a breach of contract. Constructive termination in Minnesota, is not an actionable offense on its own.