Every day, many victims of sexual harassment walk into work wondering if this is the day they will quit. They may struggle to endure the hostile working environment rather than run the risks of unemployment. Others stick it out, only to be fired rather than have their complaints heard. Are you trapped in a sexually abusive workplace? What happens to your right to sue when you quit your job to escape sexual harassment?
This blog post will discuss EEOC v. Green Lantern Inn, Inc., Civil Action No. 6:19-cv-06704 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, Rochester Division. It will discuss “constructive termination” and what happens if you quit your job to escape sexual harassment. It will also cover whether leaving a hostile work environment means giving up your right to protection under state and federal civil rights laws.
Sexual harassment and gender discrimination are rarely a one-time events. Most women and men facing sexual misconduct at work are subjected to a pattern of abuse that spans weeks, months, or even years. This behavior creates a “hostile work environment”. When an employer is put on notice that this kind of behavior is going on and doesn’t do anything to correct the problem, it can give the employee the right to sue her or his employer for sexual harassment at work.
How much harassment must you tolerate before you have a claim? The law says that a hostile work environment is created when a supervisor, coworker, or even customer of the business acts in a way that is “severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” In most cases, that means more than just an off-color joke or a little flirting. But when you face sexual comments, jokes, or physical conduct day after day, it can quickly add up to more than a reasonable person can tolerate.
That’s what happened to Rachel Clifford and her fellow coworker at Mr. Dominic’s on Main, a restaurant in Rochester, New York. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently sued Green Lantern Inn, Inc. (the legal entity behind Mr. Dominic’s) for violating Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. The complaint in EEOC v. Green Lantern Inn, Inc., Civil Action No. 6:19-cv-06704 said that Rachel Clifford and her unnamed coworker suffered a pattern of sexual harassment by the restaurant’s head chef and kitchen manager, Paul Dowlatt. According to the complaint, his sexual misconduct included inappropriate physical contact, inappropriate, hostile and offensive comments, and explicit reqeusts for sex.
It was all too much for Ms. Clifford. She filed complaints about Dowlatt’s abusive conduct to the restaurant’s owner, John Tachin, and general manager, Anthony Barbone, but the company failed to act to protect her and her coworkers from the ongoing hostile behavior. When Mr. Dominic’s took no action to stop Dowlatt’s harassment, Clifford quit. Her coworker was fired shortly after lodging her own complaint about Dowlatt.
Both employees then filed complaints with the EEOC. When attempts at negotiation failed, the agency sued the restaurant on their behalf. Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office said in a statement:
“Employers who are on notice of sexual harassment in the workplace have a clear duty to quickly put an end to the harassment. . . . The EEOC will continue to hold employers accountable for failing to protect their employees from unlawful harassment.”
The good news is that Ms. Clifford and others who are forced out of hostile work environments don’t automatically give up their rights to file claims with the EEOC or federal court just because they leave. According to the U.S. Supreme Court:
“Under the constructive discharge doctrine, an employee’s reasonable decision to resign because of unendurable working conditions is [equated with] a formal discharge for remedial purposes. . . . The inquiry is objective: Did working conditions become so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have felt compelled to resign?” Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129, 141 (2004).
That means you aren’t forced to keep enduring toxic working conditions just to protect your rights. If any reasonable person would have resigned when you did, then the judge will treat your case just the same as if you were fired. You can see that in the complaint filed with the EEOC. Ms. Clifford quit, so her claim is for constructive termination, but it is treated the same as her coworker who was fired.
When an ongoing hostile work environment forces you out of a job, you need the help of employment discrimination attorneys who will work hard to protect your rights. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our sexual harassment attorneys can help you demonstrate the conditions at your workplace, and prove your case to your employer, the EEOC, or the court. If you are facing sexual harassment at work, we can help. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to a sexual harassment attorney.