Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.

Michigan manufacturer prevails in constructive discharge lawsuit

Last week we discussed a wrongful discharge lawsuit that was filed in Wayne County. In that case, a county employee claimed he was let go from his job as a photographer because of employer retaliation. A judge disagreed, however, and dismissed the lawsuit.

Another kind of discharge of employment is constructive discharge, whereby an employee quits a job because of alleged harassment or workplace hostility. Constructive discharge can also be alleged in an employment lawsuit. That was the case not long ago for a Michigan manufacturer, but two courts ultimately found in favor of the company. Let's take a look at why.

A woman who used to work at the company claimed the vice president of operations made sexual comments to her and looked at her in a sexual manner. Specifically, the vice president was accused of looking at the woman's cleavage. She also claimed that he made a sexual proposition to her while on a business trip.

In her quid pro quo lawsuit against the vice president and the company, the woman said she rejected the alleged sexual behavior, and this resulted in her being given a heavier workload that required her to work longer hours. However, she and her employer both agreed that workloads for all employees had increased because of personnel cuts.

Still, she quit her job, and in her lawsuit she claimed that she had been subjected to sexual harassment and constructive discharge.

Upon hearing of the lawsuit, the company conducted an investigation, which found that other employees had noticed that the woman often showed her cleavage in a manner that made it "difficult not to look." After a trial court dismissed the woman's claims, the lawsuit went to an appeals court.

The appeals court found that the woman's increased workload was not linked to her rejecting the vice president's alleged behavior, since the woman's supervisor, not the VP, was in charge of giving work assignments.

The court also took issue with the fact that the employer wasn't given notice of the alleged hostile work environment until several months after the woman left the company, and her lawsuit lacked details and a useful timeline for establishing when the alleged sexual behavior took place.

The allegation of sexual proposition on a business trip was also found to be outside of the three-year statute of limitations.

In this case, the company quickly investigated the allegations once they became known. In addition to a prompt investigation, speaking with an employment law attorney can help an employer establish a legal strategy for protecting against negative outcomes.

Source: hr.blr.com, "Was employee sexually harassed, subjected to hostile work environment?" Oct. 23, 2013

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