You Weren’t Fired, You Quit!

Garrett Wozniak
Garrett Wozniak

A United States District Court in New Jersey recently denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment where the employer argued that the employee voluntarily resigned and, therefore, that there was no adverse employment action.  Taha v. TBC Corp., No. 14-03377 (D.N.J. April 26, 2016).

David Taha worked as a store manager for National Tire & Battery (NTB) in New Jersey.  Years before, he had been diagnosed with an arthritic condition.  Taha could perform the essential functions of his job without accommodation from the beginning of his employment, throughout his training, and for a during a large portion of his employment with NTB.

Taha’s time with NTB was plagued by complaints from customers about Taha’s attitude.  Numerous customers complained that Taha lacked professionalism and was rude.  Taha received at least two written warnings for poor performance.  After the second warning, Taha requested that he not work more than 50 hours per week and that NTB provide him with a stool to use periodically during his shifts.  NTB accommodated the requests.

Taha was subsequently transferred to another store, but the customer complaints continued.  According to NTB, Taha resigned during a conversation with his supervisor about the customer complaints.  Taha said that he did not resign, rather he told the supervisor that he was thinking about taking leave or resigning.  The supervisor contacted NTB’s HR manager and told him that Taha had resigned.  NTB contended that Taha repeated his resignation during a later call with company officials.  Other evidence showed that Taha attempted to rescind his resignation.  NTB accepted Taha’s resignation.

In response to Taha’s disability discrimination claim, NTB argued that Taha did not suffer an adverse employment action because he resigned and that an employer’s refusal to accept an effort to  rescind the resignation is not an adverse employment action.  For his part, Taha claimed that he never resigned.  He argued that he merely expressed his thoughts about resignation and that NTB intentionally misconstrued his statements to be a resignation in order to end his employment.

While the court expressed strong skepticism of Taha’s ability to win on the merits, it denied NTB’s motion for summary judgment because Taha created a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether he actually resigned.  Taha’s accommodation requests and reminder to NTB of his physical impairment occurred close enough in time to NTB’s acceptance of Taha’s resignation to raise an inference of discrimination.    While the court thought it likely that Taha’s employment was terminated because of the complaints, the proximity to Taha’s reporting of his disability was enough to establish a prima facie case for purposes of defeating a motion for summary judgment.

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