Nashville Legal Blog

The role of constructive discharge in employment law cases

A Tennessee employee who files a workplace discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 generally has to stay on the job to mitigate the damages. However, this may not be the case if working conditions are so unbearable that a reasonable person would have no choice but to quit. Those who resign because of unbearable conditions are said to have gone through a constructive discharge.

This may also be referred to as constructive termination or constructive dismissal. In a Supreme Court ruling, constructive discharge is equated with a formal decision for remedial purposes if working conditions are unbearable. There is precedent for courts recognizing constructive discharge claims in employment discrimination cases related to charges such as pregnancy or national origin. However, some appeals courts have said that an aggravated situation must occur to justify constructive discharge of a Title VII claimant.

Proper labeling may not always be required for EEOC charges

In Tennessee and other areas of the country, an individual usually requires a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing an employment discrimination lawsuit. After investigating a complaint, the EEOC will determine whether there is cause to believe sexual discrimination occurred and the type of discrimination involved.

However, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently revived a sexual discrimination suit against an employer who sought dismissal because the EEOC right-to-sue letter did not identify the type of discrimination alleged. The lawsuit alleged that the employee was discharged after refusing the sexual advances of a superior. In Title VII cases, this is known as quid pro quo discrimination. A lower court agreed with the employer, but the court of appeals reversed the decision.

Does your employer try to make you work 'off the clock'?

Overtime labor can be expensive for employers. After all, they are paying their workers at least time and half, which increases labor costs. Realistically, it's much more cost-effective for an employer to pay an existing employee a higher wage than it is to train someone and retain a part-time employee for only a few hours of work a week.

For whatever reason, many employers, particularly those in retail and customer service industries, have policies that do not allow any overtime work. Instead of carefully controlling hours and schedules, some of these employers may try to take advantage of workers.

How companies discriminate against workers

Employers and employees alike in Tennessee and throughout the country may understand that sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem. However, according to one study, it is uncommon for employers to take concrete action after an employee reports sexual harassment. Furthermore, it was discovered that three out of four women who are subject to harassment never report the incident to a supervisor or union representative.

Most who have experienced harassment or gender discrimination at work doubt that their claim will be taken seriously. Some may believe that reporting an incident will lead to retribution or other damage to their careers. Many large corporations are facing lawsuits related to sexual harassment and gender discrimination on the job. Qualcomm settled a gender discrimination suit for $19 million in August 2016. Microsoft had a request to dismiss a similar suit denied by a judge in October 2016.

Supreme Court denies writ and lets lower court ruling stand

Tennessee workers might want to take note of the Supreme Court of the United States's denial of a writ of certiorari, allowing the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to stand. The case involved a flexible benefits plan offered by the City of San Gabriel, California in which it offered employees cash to select their own medical benefits. They could alternatively choose to accept cash instead of benefits.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the city relied on a statutory section in order to disregard the cash-in-lieu payments it made to its employees in its calculation of overtime pay. Several police officers sued, asserting that the cash-in-lieu of benefits payments that they had received should have been included in their overtime pay calculations.

10th Circuit rules for employee in sex discrimination case

Tennessee residents may be interested in a case involving a mechanic who claimed that he was fired because he refused to have sex with his female boss. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that the Oklahoma trucking company that employed him must face the allegation in court. A lower court had ruled that the man didn't give adequate notice in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim of quid pro quo harassment.

However, the 10th Circuit ruled that since quid pro harassment and hostile workplace harassment are not wholly distinct claims, the lower court erred in its ruling. When the EEOC receives an hostile environment charge, it may also look into whether or not quid pro quo harassment took place because the two are similar in nature. Prior to a ruling made by the Supreme Court in 1998, some courts had treated the two issues as separate from each other.

You have a legal right to back pay

We spend endless hours at our jobs, working long days to complete projects or coming in early to get a head start on the day. Our employers trust us to perform our duties to the best of our abilities and we, in turn, trust them to pay us what we have earned. Imagine that after years or loyal service, you realize that your employer has not been paying you for 100 percent of your work. Is there legal action you can take? What options do you have to recover unpaid wages?

There are federal laws in place, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), to protect workers' rights. The Act provides remedies for workers, such as yourself, that have been victims of wage violations. It forces employers to pay the difference between what your employer already paid you and what you actually earned. If you are owed back pay, an employment attorney in the Brentwood area can help you get the compensation you deserve.

Female physicians report high rate of workplace discrimination

Physicians in Tennessee who are also mothers are likely to experience a high rate of discrimination at work connected to being a parent according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Almost 80 percent of 6,000 respondents to a survey reported some form of discrimination. In about two-thirds of the cases, the reported discrimination was gender-based and in about one-third, it was maternity-based. The survey defined maternal discrimination as relating to breast-feeding, maternity leave or pregnancy.

About half of the respondents reported discrimination related to breast feeding while nearly all reported discrimination based on pregnancy or maternity leave. In addition, almost 50 percent of doctors reporting maternal discrimination also said they suffered from burnout. In general, discrimination took the form of being treated disrespectfully by staff. Female physicians also reported being excluded from decision-making processes and getting less pay and fewer benefits than male physicians.

Single slur might make a hostile work environment

Tennessee employees might be able to file a lawsuit based on a single extreme incident of a workplace slur based on an April 25 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The court ruled that in some circumstances, this could constitute creating a hostile work environment. An employee representing himself had filed a lawsuit against his employer in a federal district court that granted summary judgment to the employer. However, when the man appealed the decision, the appellate court held that the district court had not sufficiently reviewed the worker's claims.

The man had an amicus curiae brief from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that argued the slur could constitute a hostile work environment. Furthermore, the Second Circuit said that other actions taken toward the worker could be sexual harassment because they were based on his perceived sexual orientation and failure to conform to gender norms.

How worker misconduct can influence discrimination claims

When employers in Tennessee and around the country are accused of letting a worker go because of race, age, gender, religion or national origin, they sometimes argue that the employee concerned should have been fired for misconduct anyway. This is known as an after-acquired evidence defense, and it can save employers money even in situations where discrimination can be proved. Employers generally prepare to mount this kind of defense by interviewing the coworkers of employees who have filed discrimination complaints and studying their work habits, online activities and emails.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard an after-acquired evidence argument in 1995 in a case involving a woman who alleged that she was terminated in violation of the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The woman admitted during a deposition that she had copied several confidential documents during the course of her employment, and her employer argued that this behavior warranted her dismissal and shielded it from liability even if it had originally fired her because of her age.

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