A federal appeals court has reinstated a constructive discharge claim in an age discrimination case filed by a former city parks worker who said he felt forced to resign because of the verbal abuse he was subjected to by his supervisor.
Lynn Sorenson, who had worked for the parks and recreation department of the City of Caldwell, Idaho, since 2008, said his supervisor subjected him to a working environment that was “hostile, offensive, intimidating and extremely unsafe,” according to court papers in Lynn Sorenson v. City of Caldwell, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho, City of Caldwell Department of Parks and Recreation.
Mr. Sorenson’s supervisor, “continuously, daily,” subjected him to comments including “old bastard,” “old,” “bald” and “stupid.” Despite numerous complaints to city officials, the harassment continued, according to his amended complaint. He resigned his position in 2012, at age 60.
He filed suit in U.S. District Court in Boise, Idaho, charging constructive and retaliatory discharge in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Idaho Human Rights Act. The court granted Caldwell summary judgment dismissing the case.
On appeal, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco unanimously reinstated the constructive discharge claim in Monday’s ruling.
Among other factors cited, the ruling said the city did not terminate the superintendent after an incident in which he had struck another employee in front of Mr. Sorenson, even though a city official acknowledged the supervisor might act violently again.
Mr. Sorenson resigned one month after reporting this incident, and four days after learning the superintendent would still be working near him, said the ruling.
“Taking these facts in the light most favorable to Sorenson, we conclude that these are triable issues related to whether Sorenson’s ‘working conditions (became) so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have felt compelled to resign,’” said the ruling quoting an earlier case.
The court did uphold summary judgment to Caldwell on Mr. Sorenson’s retaliatory discharge claim. Mr. Sorenson “did not raise a triable issue of fact regarding a causal link between his involvement in a protected activity, and an adverse employment action,” said the ruling.
The case was remanded for further proceedings.
By: Judy Greenwald