Teacher’s Constructive Discharge Claim Dismissed

In a recent case, Dinola v. Board of Education of the City of New York, 15-CV-8139, 2019 WL 5593286 (SDNY Oct. 30, 2019), the court dismissed plaintiff’s employment discrimination claims asserted pursuant to the New York State and City Human Rights Laws. Here, in sum, plaintiff asserts that she was subjected to discrimination based on her sexual orientation and retaliated against for complaining about it.

Defendants asserted that plaintiff was precluded from asserting a constructive discharge claim as a matter of law, since she resigned without engaging in proceedings brought against her under New York Education Law Section 3020-a.

The court agreed, reasoning that “[a] plaintiff who chooses not to contest charges should not be treated as if she had successfully contested the charges” and that “[s]uch a result is wholly illogical and would be prejudicial to the Board.” Therefore, plaintiff was “precluded as a matter of law from basing her constructive discharge claim based on the fact that Section 3020-a charges were filed against her and based on her claim that … unsatisfactory ratings on her lesson plans were the product of discrimination.”

The court next turned to whether plaintiff’s remaining allegations were sufficient to state a constructive discharge claim.

It summarized the law (citations, internal quotation marks omitted):

An employee is constructively discharged when his employer, rather than discharging him directly, intentionally creates a work atmosphere so intolerable that he is forced to quit involuntarily. The first part of this standard requires a showing that “employers acted with the specific intent to prompt employees’ resignations. The second part—the intolerable level of the work conditions—is assessed objectively by reference to a reasonable person in the employee’s position. Because the Court is evaluating sufficiency of allegations in the amended complaint, the Court accepts all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor.

Here, “the only allegations of intentional acts aimed at prompting the plaintiff’s resignation that plaintiff may rely on are: (1) falsely accusing plaintiff of corporal punishment, … and (2) routinely threatening plaintiff with disciplinary action.”

The court explained:

[T]hese allegations, even if true and considered in combination, are insufficient to state a constructive discharge claim because they do not create a work environment that is “so intolerable that [plaintiff would be] forced to quit involuntarily.” Terry, 336 F.3d at 151-52. First, “threats of disciplinary action … do not constitute adverse employment actions in the absence of other negative results such as a decrease in pay or being placed on probation.” Honey v. County of Rockland, 200 F. Supp. 2d 311, 320 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). Here, plaintiff only alleges that defendants “routinely threatened [plaintiff] with disciplinary action” without any allegation of defendants taking any further action—apart from filing Section 3020-a Charges, which, for the reasons stated above, plaintiff may not rely upon. Moreover, courts in this District have held that making a false accusation is an insufficient basis for a constructive discharge claim, even when combined with other allegedly discriminatory actions.

In support of this conclusion, the court cited examples of decisions in which alleged false allegations were deemed not actionable.