Constructive Discharge Claims Survive Summary Judgment

In Soto v. CDL (New York) L.L.C., 2020 WL 2133370 (S.D.N.Y. May 5, 2020) (J. Failla), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s constructive discharge claim.

The court summarized the law as follows (internal quotation marks and citations omitted):

An employee is constructively discharged when his employer, rather than discharging him directly, intentionally creates a work atmosphere so intolerable that he is forced to quit involuntarily.” Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 151-52 (2d Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). “The inquiry is objective: Did working conditions become so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have felt compelled to resign?” Pa. State Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129, 141 (2004). Work conditions are “intolerable” if they are so difficult or unpleasant that a reasonable person in the employee’s shoes would have felt compelled to resign. Whidbee, 223 F.3d at 73 (quoting Chertkova v. Ct. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 92 F.3d 81, 89 (2d Cir. 1996)). Constructive discharge claims face a “demanding” standard, Miller v. Praxair, Inc., 408 F. App’x 408, 410 (2d Cir. 2010) (summary order), “even higher than that required to prevail on a hostile environment claim,” Mandel v. Champion Int’l Corp., 361 F. Supp. 2d 320, 327 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). Finally, constructive discharge claims require a showing of intent. See Creacy v. BCBG Max Azria Grp., LLC, No. 14 Civ. 10008 (ER), 2017 WL 1216580, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2017). However, this does not require a showing that the employer had the specific intent to force an employee to quit; instead, “a plaintiff needs to ‘at least demonstrate that the employer’s actions were deliberate and not merely negligent or ineffective.’ ” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Petrosino v. Bell Atl., 385 F.3d 210, 229-30 (2d Cir. 2004)). “Therefore, … a plaintiff need only establish … that there remains a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a defendant acted deliberately in engaging in conduct that created the workplace conditions at issue.”

Applying the law, the court rejected defendant’s argument based on the fact that it lacked the intent to cause plaintiff’s resignation, noting that that is not the relevant inquiry for a constructive discharge claim.

Continuing, the court explained:

just as Plaintiff has adduced enough evidence to establish a genuine dispute of material fact as to her hostile work environment claims, she has done so for her constructive discharge claims. Drawing all inferences and resolving all ambiguities in Plaintiff’s favor, a reasonable juror could find that a reasonable person, facing three separate incidents of physical harassment in the span of approximately four months and seeing no discernable action taken against at least one of the harassers, would have found her working conditions so intolerable that she felt compelled to resign. This is especially so given the severity of the final incident of harassment.
As for the question of intent, a reasonable jury could look at the evidence that Defendant did not reprimand Perdomo (Def. Reply 56.1 ¶ 11), nor make any perceivable effort to alter his schedule (id. at ¶ 73), nor mandate any sexual harassment training for its staff (Stanciu Decl., Ex. 18), and find that Defendant deliberately made choices that led to the intolerable working conditions.

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