Is this wrongful discharge or retaliation?

Two days ago my shift began like this- I was finishing a conversation with my wife on the phone in the parking lot when my regional manager whistled loudly at me in a demeaning manner in front of other employees and yelled at me for three minutes straight standing no more than a foot from me. His points were I had come in late (although according to my cell phone and the time-clock in the building I was actually several minutes early), that I hadn't completed a project list he had given me (although I had completed some items and had communicated to my general manager some road blocks), and that I had missed a meeting (which my general manager admitted in an email to my regional manager that he failed to properly communicate the meeting to me). Still yelling, he then asked me if I wanted to continue working with the company because it seemed like I didn't and if I continued "this way" I wouldn't have a future with this company. He also stated that I wasn't needed and that I could leave right now if I wanted. I told him I'd like to keep my job and the conversation ended.

I left a message regarding the incident with my HR Director.

She returned my call late the next day and allowed me to tell my side of the story. Afterward she simply said that I "was in a very bad place right now" and when I asked her for advice on what to do next she said that she wasn't able to help. She had already spoken with the Regional Manager and made her own conclusion regarding the incident.

Background:
A little over a month ago a coworker had a problem with me and I spoke with HR about the situation that had gone on for nearly a month without change and had started to give me stress to the point where I would feel nauseous when working with this individual. With HR's help we now have a productive relationship. The only reason I can think why my regional manager (which is new to our region by the way) acted this way is he is some how retaliating against me believing I am a troublemaker and is trying to force me to quit.

Right now I don't know what to do. If I quit I may not be able to get unemployment, but I'm beginning to feel anxious at work everytime I walk in because I don't know what I might get berated for next. If he felt I needed discipline he did it entirely the wrong way- and my HR department doesn't even see that.

UPDATE: Today (the day after I spoke with HR) I was terminated. We have a specific "Open-Door Policy" in our employee handbook stating that any employee can contact HR without fear of reprisal. I hoped to get help resolving the problem- not only did I not get that, I no longer have a job.

Is this grounds for a lawsuit?

1 answer  |  asked Nov 12, 2009 03:11 AM [EST]  |  applies to Arizona

Answers (1)

Francis Fanning
I cannot say whether the facts you described would be enough to prove a constructive discharge. Constructive discharge occurs when an individual quits on account of conditions made so oppressive by the employer that a reasonable person would feel compelled to quit. The "reasonable person" standard is an objective standard. In other words, the fact that you feel compelled to quit doesn't mean that others in your situation would feel the same way. The standard creates a fact question, which in court is normally decided by a jury at trial.
What is more important is that proving a constructive discharge is simply a way of proving a discharge as opposed to a voluntary resignation. That alone does not make the discharge wrongful. I assume that you work in the private sector and that you do not have a written employment contract or a union collective bargaining agreement that requires your employer to have good cause to terminate you. If this is true, your employer is free to terminate you for any reason or no reason, as long as the reason doesn't violate public policy. Although there are certain kinds of retaliation that make a termination wrongful, retaliation for being perceived as a troublemaker is not enough. Unless you complained about unlawful discrimination, reported unlawful conduct or refused to participate in unlawful conduct, you are not protected from retaliation.
The unemployment question is somewhat different. You need not prove wrongful discharge to collect unemployment, but you must show that your termination was not voluntary. Unemployment officials use a somewhat more relaxed standard for finding a constructive discharge. Nevertheless, the burden is yours to prove that your resignation was not truly voluntary.

posted by Francis Fanning  |  Nov 12, 2009 12:17 PM [EST]  [ Best Answer - selected by asker ]

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