Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Court of Appeal has held that an employer’s refusal to honor an employee’s rescission of a voluntary resignation is not an adverse employment action under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Featherstone v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group.
Ruth Featherstone claimed that she suffered a temporary disability from an adverse drug reaction that altered her mental state. While in an altered state, she orally resigned from her position with Southern California Permanente Medical Group. At SCPMG’s request, Featherstone confirmed her resignation in writing. SCPMG then processed and completed Featherstone’s voluntary termination paperwork on the day of her resignation. A few days thereafter, Featherstone asked SCPMG to rescind her resignation. SCPMG declined to do so.
Featherstone sued SCPMG on a claim that its refusal to rescind her resignation was a discriminatory act forbidden by the Fair Employment and Housing Act and public policy. The trial court granted SCPMG’s motion for summary judgment and Featherstone appealed.
The Court of Appeal’s Decision
The Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment for SCPMG on two independent grounds.
First, the refusal to allow Featherstone to rescind her resignation was not an adverse employment action. To establish a prima facie case for disparate treatment discrimination, a FEHA plaintiff must establish that (1) she suffers from a disability, (2) she is otherwise qualified to do her job, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) the employer harbored discriminatory intent. As to element (3), the Court of Appeal held that “refusing to allow a former employee to rescind a voluntary discharge—that is, a resignation free of employer coercion or misconduct—is not an adverse employment action.” This result followed from analogous federal law—the ADA and Title VII—which courts have interpreted to mean that an employer’s refusal to allow an employee to rescind a resignation is not an adverse employment action. The Court of Appeal further noted that SCPMG did not coerce Featherstone’s resignation and was not contractually obligated to permit rescission of her resignation.
Second, the Court of Appeal also found that Featherstone failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether those who accepted and processed her resignation knew of her alleged disability when they took those actions.
What Featherstone Means for Employers
Featherstone holds that refusing to rescind a resignation that is voluntary and non-coerced is not an adverse employment action under FEHA. Featherstone will prove useful in defending claims by plaintiffs that involve similar employer actions that do not clearly qualify as adverse employment actions under California law. Featherstone also highlights the importance of promptly accepting and processing employee resignations.