In Featherstone v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group, a California Court of Appeal maintained the boundary that was created when an employee became a former employee. In that case, the plaintiff/employee took some time off from work for a medical condition, and not long after returning to work, she informed her supervisor over the phone that she was resigning her employment. A few days later, she confirmed her resignation in an email to her supervisor. The employer then promptly processed the employer’s resignation and issued her final pay. Days later, the employee requested to rescind her resignation, stating that at the time she resigned, she was on medication for her condition that altered her mental state and caused her to resign. The employer declined her request to rescind the resignation. The employee then sued for disability discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, as well as wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
The trial court dismissed the employee’s claims in summary judgment and the Court of Appeals affirmed this decision. The Court’s decision was based on its findings that: 1) the employer’s refusal to rescind the resignation was not an adverse employment action under the meaning of the FEHA, and 2) the employee failed to establish that the employer representatives who promptly processed and finalized the resignation had knowledge of the employee’s disability. The Court also found that the resignation was valid and final because it was not coerced by the employer.
In finding that the employer’s refusal to reinstate the employee was not an adverse employment action, the Court acknowledged that:
[A]n adverse employment action is one that affects an employee, not a former employee, in the terms, conditions or privileges of his or her employment, not in the terms, conditions or privileges of his or her unemployment.
The Court also adopted the view from federal precedent that an employee cannot voluntarily submit a resignation and then claim the employer’s acceptance and execution of the resignation is an adverse employment action. As such, the fact that the employer promptly processed the resignation and thus the plaintiff was no longer an employee at the time that the employer denied her request was a pivotal fact in the Court’s decision.
Employers should take note from this decision that Courts have been inclined to hold employees to their un-coerced resignations, even in this case, where the employee claimed that her resignation was due to her altered mental state from medical treatment. This case also reinforces the employer’s practice of obtaining documentation from the employee confirming the resignation, establishing an effective date of the resignation, and promptly processing the resignation (including issuing final pay to the employee).