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My supervisor's verbal attacks forced me to resign. Can I take legal action?

Monday January 2, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

I resigned from my job because I was emotionally distressed by my supervisor’s verbal attacks. She would scream at me in front of everyone in the office while I was on the phone with clients. She questioned my professional credentials by stating that she does not know how I passed my NCLEX. Her statements offended me. Her behavior was mentally draining, and it forced me to quit. Should I take legal action against her? I have witnesses who can verify she screamed at me at a work.


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Rose,

It sounds as though your work environment was less than ideal. And it sounds like your supervisor needs a crash course in leadership and how to work with others. In any event, you should consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can advise you about the conditions under which you were “forced” to quit.

Employment law has a remedy for those who resign from a position involuntarily because of unbearable work conditions, such as being harassed and having one's reputation questioned in front of others. It is called a constructive discharge, which is defined as "a termination of employment brought about by making the employee's working conditions so intolerable the employee feels compelled to leave" (Black's Law Dictionary, 2nd Pocket Edition, West, 2001, 206).

From your description, it sounds as though things were intolerable for you, and had these conditions not been present, you would have continued to work there. Your attorney can evaluate this potential cause of action and determine your next step in either getting your job back (which may not be a realistic or desired outcome) or being awarded some monetary compensation for what was, in effect, an unfair firing. Consulting with the attorney sooner rather than later is best so that if you have a cause of action, you can file it within the required time frame in your state for this type of lawsuit.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.