Minnesota is a state renowned for its strong work ethic and sense of community. Employees often dedicate many years, if not decades, to the same employer, fulfilling job duties diligently. Unfortunately, loyalty and strong job performance do not always protect employees from various forms of employment discrimination, including age discrimination, race discrimination, religion, disability discrimination, national origin, sex discrimination, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. One pernicious form of adverse action stemming from employment discrimination that has garnered recent attention is Constructive Discharge—being forced to quit your job—which is not only unethical but also illegal under Minnesota law.
What is Constructive Discharge?
People may refer to constructive discharge as “being forced to quit,” “quiet firing,” “being pushed out of a job.” These are all references to the legal doctrine of constructive discharge. Constructive Discharge occurs when an employer makes the working conditions intolerable or takes deliberate actions to force an employee to quit, rather than outright terminating them. Essentially, the employer creates an environment or set of circumstances where the employee feels they have no other choice but to resign. It serves as an alternative tactic to direct termination but is equally damaging, and illegal, when rooted in discrimination.
Landmark Ruling by Minnesota Supreme Court
In February 2023, the Minnesota Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling in favor of employees. In the case of Henry v. Independent School District #625, the court ruled that an employee who has been forced to resign—“constructively discharged”—due to illegal discrimination has the right to sue their employer. The court’s opinion stated:
The requisite objectively intolerable conditions for constructive discharge based on disparate treatment can occur when an employer acts in a manner so as to have communicated to a reasonable employee that she will be terminated, and the plaintiff employee resigns. In other words, a … constructive discharge can occur where, due to the employer’s illegal discrimination in the form of unfavorable treatment based on the employee’s protected status, the handwriting is on the wall and the axe was about to fall.Henry v. Indep. Sch. Dist. #625, No. A21-0004, 2023 WL 1807744 at 11 (Minn. 2023)
This ruling broadened the scope of what constitutes a constructive discharge by indicating that intolerable conditions necessary for such a claim can differ between disparate treatment and a hostile work environment. It means that an employee need not prove the existence of a hostile work environment if they can demonstrate that they were forced to quit due to unfavorable treatment based on their protected status.
Criteria for Constructive Discharge Claims
In this ruling, the court clarified that the employee must prove either that the employer’s actions were intended to force them to quit or that their resignation was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of those actions. If enough evidence is presented to substantiate either, a constructive discharge claim can be substantiated.
Typical Actions Leading to Constructive Discharge
The court provided examples of actions that could result in constructive discharge:
- Use of repetitive or unachievable Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs)
- Exaggeration or fabrication of performance issues
- Discriminatory remarks made to or about the employee
- Disproportionate reprimands compared to other employees
Legal Recourse Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act
For individuals who find themselves constructively discharged based on discrimination, legal recourse is available under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. If you have been forced to resign due to your employer’s deliberate actions linked to any protected characteristic, such as race or age, you have the right to pursue a claim of employment discrimination.
Contact Wanta Thome for Relentless Legal Advocacy
In cases of employment discrimination leading to constructive discharge, expert legal counsel is indispensable. Wanta Thome is dedicated to advocating fearlessly for workers who have experienced such discrimination. If you believe you have been constructively discharged, it is crucial to consult an experienced legal advocate.
If you find yourself in a situation where your job is trying to force you to quit through intolerable conditions forcing you to resign, know that the law is on your side. Take action, contact us, and exercise your right to a discrimination-free workplace.