Intolerable Working Conditions Support a Nurse’s Constructive Termination Claim

A 54-year old Filipino woman, Shirley Galvan, worked for Dameron Hospital Association (Dameron) as a nurse for approximately twenty-five years.  In 2011, Doreen Alvarez became Ms. Galvan’s supervisor and allegedly began harassing Ms. Galvan and other Filipino employees.  Ms. Alvarez commented that the Filipino employees could not speak English, had thick accents, made too much money, were too old, and had been at Dameron too long.  Ms. Alvarez threatened to “clean house” and repeatedly humiliated the Filipino employees by making derogatory statements about their accents, level of education, and work performance.  Ms. Galvan went out on stress leave due to the anxiety she was experiencing as a result of this harassment.  She was constructively terminated in 2014.

Ms. Galvan brought suit against Dameron and Ms. Alvarez, alleging that she had been discriminated against and harassed on the basis of her age and national origin, and constructively terminated in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. The defendants moved for summary judgment.  The trial court granted the defendants’ motion finding that Ms. Galvan could not make a prima facie showing of discrimination because she could not demonstrate that she had suffered an adverse employment action or that Dameron had acted with discriminatory motive.  The trial could also found that Ms. Galvan’s harassment claim failed because she could not show that any of the allegedly harassing conduct was based on her national origin or age.  Ms. Galvan’s claims that were derivative of the discrimination and harassment claims were dismissed as well.

Ms. Galvan appealed.  The Court of Appeal reversed in part, denying summary adjudication for the discrimination, harassment, failure to prevent harassment and wrongful termination claims. (Galvan v. Dameron Hospital Association, et al. C081092 (filed 6/20/19; certified for partial publication 7/17/19 CA3).

The appellate court found that there were disputed factual issues about whether Ms. Galvan was constructively terminated and whether Dameron acted with discriminatory motive.  To establish a constructive termination claim, Ms. Galvan had to prove by a preponderance of evidence that Dameron either intentionally created or knowingly permitted working conditions that were so intolerable at the time of Ms. Galvan’s resignation, that a reasonable employer would recognize that a reasonable person in Ms. Galvan’s position would be compelled to quit.  The employer or someone in a supervisory position could demonstrate the requisite knowledge or intent needed to meet this standard.  Ms. Galvan presented evidence that Ms. Alvarez intentionally created hostile working conditions that a might lead a reasonable person to feel compelled to leave his or her job.

The appellate court also found that Ms. Galvan presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Ms. Alvarez acted with discriminatory motive and that there was a nexus between Ms. Alvarez’s conduct and Ms. Galvan’s protected status.  Discrimination based on an employee’s foreign accent is sufficient to make a showing of national origin discrimination.  As a supervisor, Ms. Alvarez’s statements, including that Filipinos were “stupid,” and criticism of their accents could hold both defendants liable for discrimination.

In addition, the appellate court found that that Ms. Galvan presented sufficient evidence for her harassment cause of action to survive summary adjudication.  The appellate court was not persuaded by the defendants’ arguments that the harassment was not sufficiently severe or pervasive.  Ms. Galvan presented evidence that could demonstrate a concerted pattern of harassment.  Ms. Alvarez humiliated the Filipino employees, mocked their English language skills, and bombarded them with negative comments, according to Ms. Galvan.  Thus, there were triable issues of material fact as to whether Ms. Alvarez’s statements and negative comments about accents, national origin and age raised a triable issue of material fact as to whether Ms. Alvarez’s treatment of Ms. Galvan and other Filipino employees was motivated by national origin and age.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against or harassed in the workplace, please feel free to call Hunter Pyle Law for a free consultation at (510)-444-4400 or