Workers in California and around the country who are subjected to discrimination may file claims under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but they are expected to mitigate their damages by remaining in their jobs whenever possible. However, there are situations where workplace environments become so toxic that the courts have allowed workers to collect damages including back pay even though they resigned. According to a 2004 Supreme Court ruling, the constructive discharge doctrine applies when working conditions are so unbearable that any reasonable person would hand in their resignation.
The doctrine has been applied in pregnancy, race, national origin, sex and age discrimination cases, but plaintiffs must overcome a number of hurdles in order in order for these arguments to be successful. In addition to proving that discrimination or harassment existed, workers must generally be able to establish that the discrimination was intentional and aggravating factors made resignation the only reasonable course of action.
Proving constructive dismissal is important because the courts have been reluctant to award damages for front or back pay in discrimination cases when workers have resigned. Workers should also be aware that the deadline for filing discrimination claims under Title VII begins to run when they hand in their notices and not on the date that they actually leave their jobs.
Attorneys with employment law experience have likely encountered clients who struggled to cope with unbearable working environments. While attorneys may sympathize with workers in this type of situation, they may urge them to remain in their positions if at all possible. Employers fearing a flood of similar complaints could address discriminatory practices when challenged legally, and workers may be able to gather evidence crucial to their cases if they remain on the job.