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Explaining constructive discharge

Most Californians likely understand that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers who are members of protected classes or who have engaged in protected activities. When employers discriminate and the workers file discrimination claims, the employers are prohibited from retaliating against them.

While retaliation may involve wrongful terminations, it may also include something called a constructive discharge if the employee quits. This happens when the workplace environment is made to be so unbearable to the worker that he or she is deemed to have involuntarily resigned from the job. The environment must be so unbearable that it exceeds what is required to prove a hostile workplace environment claim.

Courts across the nation have recognized constructive discharges as valid claims. In order to prevail, the plaintiffs must first show that intentional discrimination happened based on their protected statuses or activities. Courts have found that constructive discharges happened in a variety of different discrimination cases, including those involving racial discrimination, sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, national origin discrimination, religious discrimination and whistleblower cases. Employers must not try to make the environments so awful for workers who are protected in efforts to force them to quit because they have filed discrimination or whistleblower complaints.

Workers who believe that they are the victims of workplace discrimination may want to consult with employment law attorneys. It is important for workers to act quickly because of the limited time periods within which they may file discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state. Workers must also first follow their companies' own internal procedures for reporting workplace discrimination. If nothing is done or they are retaliated against because they complained, they may then file claims with the EEOC. If the EEOC gives the workers the right to sue, they may then file lawsuits in federal court.

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