About Us  |  About Cheetah®  |  Contact Us

Employee’s own worsening health no basis for constructive discharge

By Lorene D. Park, J.D.

A diabetic employee who chose to resign from his travel-heavy job due to his diabetes offered no precedent for his argument that he was constructively discharged because his working conditions were made intolerable by his own worsening health. Affirming summary judgment for an employer on the employee’s state law disability discrimination claim, the Eighth Circuit explained that his argument was foreclosed by a Missouri Supreme Court decision making it clear that the question is whether “an employer deliberately renders an employee’s working conditions so intolerable that the employee was forced to quit” (Noel v. AT&T Corp., December 4, 2014, Gruender, R.).

The employee worked for a company that built video headend offices (VHO) for AT&T U-verse television. As one of only six field support engineers in the country, he was required to travel to the VHOs in order to train employees and provide other services. In April 2008, he collapsed in an airport because of his diabetes. As a result, his doctors recommended that he do little or no traveling. He was temporarily reassigned to a short-term project requiring no travel but a few months later was placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP). Less than three weeks later, he was hospitalized after suffering a breakdown. He went on a six-month short-term disability leave but by April 2010 was again hospitalized for depression. He resigned in June.

District court proceedings. The employee filed suit alleging disability discrimination under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). Granting summary judgment, the district court explained that, among other reasons, his claim failed because he could not establish that he was constructively discharged. Specifically, the employee could not show that his work conditions were intolerable to a reasonable person, that he was subjected to a continuous pattern of discriminatory treatment because of his disability, or that the employer deliberately made his work conditions so intolerable that he was forced to quit.

Quit due to worsening health, not constructive discharge. Affirming, the Eighth Circuit found no factual dispute as to whether the employee was constructively discharged. Indeed, he admitted that no one told him to resign, told him he could not return to work, or ever disparaged him in any way related to his diabetes. To the contrary, the employer gave him a temporary reprieve from travel to try to accommodate him.

The appeals court flatly rejected the employee’s contention that his work was made intolerable by his own worsening health and “there can be a change in an employee’s condition that makes conditions intolerable.” He offered no cases to support his argument, explained the court, and it was “foreclosed by the plain language of the Missouri Supreme Court, which asks whether ‘an employer deliberately renders an employee’s working conditions so intolerable that the employee is forced to quit.’” Because the employee chose to resign because of his diabetes, he failed to raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether he was constructively discharged. For this reason, and because he did not claim he was actually discharged, his MHRA claim failed as a matter of law.