Did Holly Judge Really Resign? After Close Review, Third Circuit Rejects Her Constructive Discharge Claims

Author:Mr Paul Galligan and Ryan B. Schneider
Profession:Seyfarth Shaw LLP
 
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Seyfarth Synopsis: In Judge v. Shikellamy Sch. Dist., No. 17-2189, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 27229 (3d Cir. Sep. 24, 2018), the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals adopted a new approach to constructive discharge cases where an employee alleges coerced resignation in lieu of disciplinary proceedings.

Background

Plaintiff Holly Judge, a tenured school principal in Shikellamy School District, resigned after she was arrested for driving while intoxicated. The blood alcohol test revealed that Plaintiff's blood alcohol content was .332, more than four times the legal limit. Plaintiff was released the same night, and formal criminal charges were not filed at that time.

Twenty days after Plaintiff's arrest, the Superintendent of Plaintiff's school district visited Plaintiff's office and inquired about the incident, which Plaintiff acknowledged. That afternoon, Plaintiff was summoned to the Superintendent's office and was asked to resign immediately. In exchange for Plaintiff's resignation, the superintendent offered to provide a neutral reference, but if Plaintiff declined the offer, Plaintiff would be issued a written charge of dismissal premised on "Immorality." A pre-termination hearing would follow pursuant to Plaintiff's employment contract. Plaintiff was given until 12:30 pm the following day to accept or decline the ultimatum. Plaintiff did not consult her criminal lawyer whom she had retained after her arrest, but after speaking with her mother that evening and learning that she was charged with "general impairment" and "highest rate of alcohol" DUI under Pennsylvania law, Plaintiff resigned by the deadline.

Thereafter, Plaintiff filed procedural and substantive due process, equal protection, and breach of contract claims against the school district and other individually named Defendants, all under a constructive discharge theory. Plaintiff's breach of contract and procedural due process claims survived a motion to dismiss but were dismissed on summary judgment. Plaintiff then appealed to the 3rd Circuit.

The 3rd Circuit's New Approach to Constructive Discharge Claims

The 3rd Circuit acknowledged that there was a rebuttable presumption that employees tender their resignations voluntarily. As such, employees carry the burden of producing evidence that their resignation was involuntarily procured via coercion or duress, viewed objectively.

However, the Court noted that it had not "explained how claims of constructive discharge should be evaluated." The...

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