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Constructive dismissal: Forced out by a hostile environment

All it takes is the realization that a company is going to put its reputation ahead of the wellbeing of its employees to make a sexually abusive supervisor figure out that he or she can get away with just about anything.

That can end up creating a toxic work environment so hostile that some employees feel like they have no choice but to resign or retire. Even though the employee is the one to take the action to terminate his or her employment, the law recognizes this as a "constructive dismissal," where the employer essentially forced the employee into action. A constructive dismissal is simply another form of wrongful termination.

Under California law, constructive dismissal cases must meet two conditions:

—The work environment was so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee's position would have felt compelled to resign.

—The employer had actual knowledge of the problems that pushed the employee into resigning or intended to force the resignation all along.

For example, a recent lawsuit filed against Goodwill Industries and an affiliate alleges that three disabled female employees, hired through the affiliate's work program, were all subjected to sexual harassment by a single supervisor from 2009 to 2012. The women in the lawsuit state that they repeatedly complained to upper management about their supervisor but nobody took action to stop him.

Goodwill's reputation is built, in part, on the fact that it supports the disabled community in general. While it's only speculation, perhaps that led to the decision to simply move the supervisor around, rather than draw attention to his activities.

The other two plaintiffs in the lawsuit are former Goodwill supervisors. Both participated in the harassment investigation conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and both were subjected to immediate retaliation.

One of the supervisors was suddenly reprimanded and then transferred to the less-than-desirable night shift. She eventually felt the environment was so abusive that she had to quit. The other supervisor was suddenly reprimanded for not carrying out duties that weren't even in his job description! He ultimately felt forced to retire.

Both of these former supervisors seem to have a strong case for constructive dismissal lawsuits, given that the negative consequences they faced began immediately after they participated in the EEOC investigation.

If you believe you were forced into quitting or retiring because of a hostile work environment, consider contacting an attorney for advice.

Source: FindLaw, "Constructive Dismissal and Wrongful Termination," accessed Jan. 22, 2017

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