In what appears to be an issue previously undecided under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), the Second District Court of Appeals in California held that an employer’s refusal to allow an at-will employee to rescind her resignation is not a proper basis for a disability discrimination lawsuit. The employee alleged that when she resigned, she was suffering from an altered mental state due to a side effect of a medication she was taking. The employee sued for disability discrimination when she was not permitted to rescind her resignation. See, Ruth Featherstone v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group, decided April 19, 2017.
The employee took approved medical leave to have surgery for a chronic sinus condition. After recovering from surgery, the employee’s doctor released her to work without restrictions. Seven days after returning to work, the employee called her supervisor to resign effective immediately. The supervisor did not consider the employee’s behavior (talking quickly and stating that “God had told [her] to do something else”) during that call as odd or inconsistent with the employee’s character. After the conversation, the supervisor emailed the employee to confirm her resignation in writing and, at the instruction of human resources, immediately processed the termination paperwork so that the employee could receive her final paycheck.
The day after she resigned, the employee was hospitalized because of uncharacteristic behavioral changes. A coworker found out about the employee’s hospitalization and reported it to HR who properly declined to discuss the situation since the coworker was not a family member. Three days later, the same day that the employee was released from the hospital, the employee confirmed her resignation in writing.
Five days after confirming her resignation in writing, the employee told HR that at the time of her resignation she was suffering from an adverse drug reaction and wanted to rescind her resignation. The employer allowed the employee to provide any documents she wanted to be considered in connection with her request to rescind her resignation. After considering the submitted documents and consulting legal counsel, HR determined that nothing improper had occurred in accepting the resignation and that no facts required the employer to allow the employee to rescind her resignation.
The appellate court upheld the trial court’s order granting summary judgment for the employer because: (1) when the employee resigned, the employer did not know she was suffering from an altered mental state; (2) the employee’s resignation was voluntary because the employer did not coerce or pressure her to resign; and (3) the employee was at-will, so there was no employment contract that required the employer to let her rescind her resignation.
This decision should be welcome news to employers when faced with inconsistent employment status communications from employees. Please feel to contact Sander van der Heide (Sander.vdHeide@jacksonlewis.com) or Cary Palmer (firstname.lastname@example.org), or the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work, if you have any questions about this decision.