California employees who are contemplating leaving their jobs due to harassment or discrimination should understand the different views that courts take of hostile work environments and constructive discharge claims. In general, a hostile work environment arises when an employee in a protected class experiences discrimination or harassment. A constructive discharge describes an employee leaving a job because the unfair treatment has become unbearable. The Supreme Court of the United States defines it as an act that a reasonable person would consider necessary to escape an unendurable situation.
Evidence of discriminatory treatment could suffice to win a hostile work environment claim against an employer, but a claim of constructive discharge faces a higher legal standard. In a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, the ruling specified that discrimination such as unequal pay did not justify leaving a job because additional aggravating circumstances were necessary to assign liability to the employer for lost wages after the employee chose to quit.
Another appeals court determined that a constructive discharge suit needed to show intentional discrimination, a deliberate desire to make a job environment intolerable and additional aggravating factors that eliminated the option of staying at a job. Although a constructive discharge case is harder to win, cases have succeeded for people who left a job because of mistreatment based on pregnancy, religion, race, sex, national origin and whistleblower retaliation.
A person suffering from mistreatment at work could ask an attorney questions about how the law might view a claim of workplace discrimination. If appropriate, the attorney might find it advisable to initiate the procedure by filing a claim with the appropriate federal or state agency.