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Constructive Discharge Under California Law


Did you quit your job because your employer made your working conditions intolerable? If so, you might have a constructive discharge claim against your employer.


Constructive discharge “occurs when the employer’s conduct effectively forces an employee to resign. Although the employee may say, ‘I quit,’ the employment relationship is actually severed involuntarily by the employer’s acts, against the employee’s will. As a result, a constructive discharge is legally regarded as a firing rather than a resignation.” (Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (1994) 7 Cal.4th 1238, 1244-45 (emphasis added); see Colores v. The Board of Trustees (2003) 105 Cal.App.4th 1293 (“In an attempt to avoid liability [for wrongfully discharging an employee], an employer may refrain from actually firing an employee, preferring instead to engage in conduct causing him or her to quit. The doctrine of constructive discharge addresses such employer-attempted ‘end runs’ around wrongful discharge….” (citation and quotation marks omitted))


Below are seven things that you should know about constructive discharge claims under California law:


No. 1: In order to prevail on a constructive discharge claim, you must prove that your employer “either intentionally created or knowingly permitted working conditions that were so intolerable or aggravated at the time of [your] resignation that a reasonable employer would realize that a reasonable person in [your] position would be compelled to resign.” (Turner, 7 Cal.4th 1238 at 1251)


In turn, “[t]o be ‘intolerable’ or ‘aggravated,’ [your] working conditions must be ‘sufficiently extraordinary and egregious to overcome the normal motivation of a competent, diligent, and reasonable employee to remain on the job to earn a livelihood and to serve his or her employer. The proper focus is on whether the resignation was coerced, not whether it was simply one rational option for the employee.” (Steele v. Youthful Offender Parole Board (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 1241, 1253 (citing Turner, 7 Cal.4th at 1246)


No. 2: “[W]orking conditions must be unusually aggravated or amount to a continuous pattern before the situation will be deemed intolerable.” (Simers v. Los Angeles Times Communications, LLC (2018) 18 Cal.App.5th 1248, 1270 (citation and quotation marks omitted; emphasis added))


No. 3: Courts have held that “even though individual incidents in a campaign of harassment do not constitute justification for an employee to resign, the overall campaign of harassment can constitute such a justification.” (Id. at 1274 (citation and quotation marks omitted; emphasis added))


No. 4: Courts have held that “a poor performance rating or a demotion, even when accompanied by reduction in pay, does not by itself trigger a constructive discharge.” (Id. at 1270 (citation and quotation marks omitted))


No. 5: Courts have held that “[w]hile…a constructive discharge may be found based on a supervisor constantly yelling, screaming, intimidating, or disparaging a plaintiff,” such actions are a not a “necessary prerequisite to a finding of constructive discharge.” (Steele, 162 Cal.App.4th at 1259)


No. 6: Courts have held that “employers have the right to unfairly and harshly criticize their employees, to embarrass them in front of other employees, and to threaten to terminate or demote the employee,” but “a continuous course of such actions, uncorrected by management, can constitute objectively intolerable working conditions.” (Id. at 1253 (citing Casenas v. Fujisawa USA, Inc., 58 Cal.App.4th 101, 115 (1997))


No. 7: In Vasquez v. Franklin Management Real Estate Fund, Inc. (2013) 222 Cal.App.4th 819, 824, the employee, a maintenance technician, was paid $10 per hour. His employer allegedly failed to reimburse the employee for any mileage even though the employee used his car and paid for gas to run work-related errands. The employee alleged that he should have been reimbursed $330 per month based on driving 30 miles each workday and that the $330 represented a significant percentage of his $1,600 monthly salary. The employee further contended that his employer’s failure to reimburse him for mileage resulted in his $10 per hour wages to be effectively reduced to less than the minimum wage.


The Court of Appeal found that a claim for constructive discharge in violation of public policy could be stated based on the plaintiff’s factual contentions. “Should [the employee] present evidence establishing these facts at trial, a reasonable trier of fact could find that [the employer] ‘knowingly permitted working conditions that were so intolerable or aggravated at the time of the employee’s resignation that a reasonable employer would realize that a reasonable person in the employer’s position would be compelled to resign.’” (Vasquez v. Franklin Management Real Estate Fund, Inc. (2013) 222 Cal.App.4th 819, 829 (citation omitted))


If you have questions about constructive discharge under California law, call ((916) 612-0326) or email (contact@finleyemplaw.com) Finley Employment Law today. We serve clients throughout California, including Sacramento, Roseville, Walnut Creek, San Ramon, and Concord.


The information in this blog post is for general informational and advertising purposes only and is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Instead, you should speak with a California employment attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

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