When an employee “voluntary resigns”, an employee may still prevail in an employment discrimination claim based on age, disability, or other protected criteria. Some employers who have already made a decision to terminate an employee use a tactic where the employer calls an employee to a meeting and the employer states that we are going to terminate if you do not immediately resign. In such instances, when the underlying reason for the termination is protected by the law, courts can find that the “voluntary resignation” is a constructive discharge, which is in effect the same as the termination of employment. In Sorlini v. Wissahickon School District (E., D. Pa. no. 16-1837) (April 5, 2017) (Tucker, C. J.), the court denied the employer’s Motion to Dismiss, found that there was evidence to support a constructive discharge of employment and held that the employee could proceed with his age and disability discrimination claims.
In Sorlini, the employee was a 58-year-old building supervisor for a school district who suffered from heart and knee problems that affected his ability to walk or stand without pain for extended periods of time, which culminated in a heart attack and two knee surgeries. The employee took a significant amount of time off from work. The employee was terminated within 2-3 months after another employee informed him that she overheard the school principal, and a supervisor, discussing the need to terminate his employment due to his illness and numerous sick leaves. The principal met with the employee and expressed concern that he had allowed another employee’s boyfriend on school premises without authorization; the employee denied that he had any knowledge of the boyfriend being present. Prior to the principal’s meeting, the employee had never had his work performance questioned and he had no disciplinary history. The day after the principal’s meeting, the employee was called to a meeting with the employer’s human resources director, chief financial officer, and his supervisor and informed that if he did not resign immediately, he would be terminated for allowing the co-worker’s boyfriend on school premises and that he would not be eligible for disability pension benefits if he was terminated. The employee then signed a resignation letter during the meeting under the threat of immediate termination. The employee was replaced by an employee who was less than 40 years of age. The employee also alleged that there was a liberal practice of allowing individuals who were not school employees on school premises and two custodians, a secretary, and a teacher allowed individuals who were not school employees on the school premises, yet they were not disciplined.
In Sorlini, the employee filed a lawsuit against the school district alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment (ADEA), disability discrimination in violate of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The employee, alleged that the employer constructively discharged him because of his age and disabilities, and subsequently replaced him with a younger employee.
An employer’s Motion to Dismiss will be denied if the employee alleges a prima facie case of discrimination. To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination an employee must show: (1) the employee is older than 40; (2) the employee was qualified for the position; (3) the employee suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the employee was replaced by a sufficiently younger person or some other evidence to support the inference of age discrimination.
In Sorlini, the employee was 58 years old, he was qualified for the job he performed for 7 years and he was subsequently replaced by a substantially younger person. Thus, the question centered around whether he suffered an adverse employment action despite the fact that he voluntarily resigned. When an employee voluntarily resigns, an adverse employment action exists if the employee was constructively discharged. A constructive discharge is established when a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have had no choice but to resign. When considering whether an employee was constructively discharged, courts look for indicia of coercion, such as threats of termination, suggestions to resign or retire, demotions or reductions in pay or benefits, alterations in job responsibilities, unfavorable performance evaluations, and false accusations of stealing or misconduct.
In Sorlini, the court found that the employee was constructively discharged because he alleged that he was subject to false accusations of misconduct and threats of discharge, he was falsely accused of letting unauthorized personnel on school premises and then told that he would be terminated for his misconduct if he did not resign. The court found that given the time constraint, the employee did not have the opportunity for due deliberation before making the decision to sign a resignation letter, thus, there was evidence that would raise a reasonable expectation of constructive discharge and the court found that the employee had sufficiently raised a claim of age discrimination to survive the motion to dismiss.
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual with a disability in regard to termination or the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. To establish a prima facie case under the ADA, an employee must show that he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations and the employ suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination based on a disability. An employee may be qualified to perform the essential functions of a job based on job experience. A discriminatory adverse employment decision due to a disability may be established by a constructive discharge.
In Sorlini, the court found that the employee qualified for protection under the ADA as he alleged several musculoskeletal and cardiovascular physical impairments that limit major life activities, including heart and knee problems that affected his prolonged ability to walk or stand without pain. The court also held that the employee was qualified for the position of bundling supervisor in that he had performed the job for 7 years. Further, as with the age discrimination claim, the court found that there was evidence that could support a constructive discharge of employment which raises the reasonable expectation that Plaintiff suffered a discriminatory adverse employment action due to his disability
Andrew Abramson is a Pennsylvania employment discrimination attorney who represents employees who have been discriminated against based on their age, a disability and other legally protected criteria. For more information on age discrimination see https://www.job-discrimination.com/age-discrimination.html; for more information on disability discrimination see our website at http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126511.htm.