Is it demotion or constructive discharge?

I was vice-president of my company until 1/7/2015. At a meeting on 1/5/2015, the president announced that he had made another gentleman senior vice-president. I was called in for a meeting on 1/7/2015 with the president and senior VP, and I was told by senior VP that he could not work with me and that I was demoted to working supervisor at our manufacturing facility. I was told that if I did not accept, they had nothing else for me. I had no choice; I need a job. I have been with the company for 30 yrs., but now when I am working very few people speak to me. I feel like an outcast. Do I have any type of recourse?

Posted 01-12-2015

Ann Kiernan replies:

Under the at-will employment doctrine, companies are generally free to change wages, titles, job conditions, locations, and all other terms and conditions of employment. However, if an employer deliberately creates intolerable working conditions with the intention of forcing someone to quit, the employer can be liable for constructive discharge. That might be your situation here.

When I read your question, I was reminded of the recent case of Sanders v. Lee County School Dist., 669 F. 3d 888 (8th Cir. 2012). Sharon Sanders, a white finance coordinator, was summarily demoted to food services assistant by a newly-elected predominantly black school board. She resigned, and sued for racial discrimination and constructive discharge.

In affirming the jury verdicts for discrimination and constructive discharge, the appellate court observed, using language easily adaptable to your situation:

Here, a reasonable jury could conclude the change in position from finance coordinator to food services assistant was a demotion with a diminution in title and significantly decreased responsibilities, and that a reasonable employee in Sanders’s position would find the reassignment demeaning. Furthermore, “

[c]onstructive discharge through placement in a job that is ‘intolerable’ may be shown by a deliberate placement in a job for which one is not qualified and that one is unable to perform, regardless of whether the environment is intolerably abusive or oppressive.”

To learn more about your rights, I suggest that you consult a local employment law attorney. If you do not know one, you could contact the National Employment Lawyers Association, www.nela.org, and ask for a referral. Good luck.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.

2016-11-18T16:00:38+00:00

About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.