Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Sunday, November 07, 2004

7th Cir. No Constructive Discharge Just Because of Possible (Even Likely) Termination

When a teacher was told that the Superintendent was not going to recommend her contract be renewed for the next year, she took early retirement and then claimed constructive discharge. Skipping over the requirement of "unendurable working conditions" reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Suders, she argued that merely having a "discharge lurking in the background" was sufficient. Wrong. Cigan v. Chippewa Falls School District (7th Cir. 11/5/04) [pdf].

After knocking down the constructive discharge issue, the Court also dealt with the pesky question of whether an employer who makes some attempt at accommodation has by that act treated the person as disabled, thus meeting the "perceived" prong of the definition. The Court both quickly explained and rejected her argument:
Cigan’s line of argument supposes that an employer offers accommodation only if it thinks that the employee suffers from a substantial limitation in a major life activity. The “only if” is vital; if employers accommodate for other reasons, then the fact of accommodation does not support an inference that a given employer must have regarded a given employee as disabled. Cigan does not try to justify the “only if” clause, and it would not be a sound inference. Decent managers try to help employees cope with declining health without knowing or caring whether they fit the definition in some federal statute.
The last sentence just illustrating that some good deeds do go unpunished.

Finally, although not required to decide the issue, the Court leaves little doubt that it would side with those courts that would hold that absent an "actual disability" there is no need for accommodation of one who is only "perceived" as disabled.

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