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?
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, “