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Seventh Circuit Ok’s Constructive Discharge Age Discrimination Claim

Sam Stamey is suing his former employer Forest River, Inc., alleging he was constructively discharged in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). About 10 years into his tenure at the company, when he was 61 years of age, Stamey said his co-workers began harassing him almost every morning. He said they taunted him when he came into work, when he was on breaks, when he left work, and when he was around other employees. His co-workers called him "grandma" and "old b---." They said to him: "you still alive? What the F?"; "When the f--- you retiring?"; What's up homo? Looks like your dentures are about to fall out; "I thought you died last week." Stamey estimated he had heard as many as 1000 insults from his co-workers. In addition to the verbal harassment, Stamey also stated his co-workers interfered with his work by defacing his workstation with profanity and zip-tying his tools together. He alleged his coworkers glued his tool cabinet and other items shut.

Stamey complained via voicemail with the human resources department (HR) but did not hear back. He also complained to his supervisor on many occasions. The conduct would stop for a week or two and then start back up again. When a new supervisor took over, Stamey complained again. This supervisor told Stamey that he could not do anything unless Stamey could identify the individuals interfering with his workspace. Stamey tried complaining to HR again, and they contacted the plant manager. Stamey stated the plant manager was upset that Stamey went over his head and only told the employees to stop the "horseplay." The plant manager did not follow up. Stamey resigned from his employment because of the stress.

To establish constructive discharge, Stamey had to demonstrate "working conditions even more egregious than that required for a hostile work environment claim." The Seventh Circuit said Stamey had to establish that "seeking redress from the employer would be futile." If Forest River had "numerous opportunities to respond to the situation" but failed to do so, a jury could find Stamey was constructively discharged. According to the court, Stamey had alleged a significant amount of verbal insults and physical acts, and a jury could find he had a reasonable belief that additional complaints were futile.