In general, once an employee tenders his or her notice of resignation, the employer is under no legal obligation to rescind acceptance of the notice. Last month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals cast doubt on this rule by concluding that in some circumstances, not allowing the employee to withdraw the resignation can constitute retaliation under Title VII.
In Porter v. Houma Terrebonne Hous. Auth. Bd. of Comm’rs, the plaintiff tendered her resignation, and then complained to the employer about a supervisor’s alleged sexual harassment. During the course of the subsequent investigation, the plaintiff requested that she be allowed to rescind her resignation. The supervisor accused of harassment refused to allow withdrawal of her resignation, despite the recommendation of the plaintiff’s direct supervisor that she be allowed to do so.
The district court held that failure to allow an employee to undo her resignation is not an adverse employment action necessary to support a Title VII retaliation claim. The Fifth Circuit disagreed, reversing dismissal of the suit and remanding the matter for jury trial. The court concluded that the harassment complaint may have prompted the supervisor to refuse the withdrawal request. Under the Supreme Court’s Burlington Northern decision, this refusal could dissuade employees from complaining about harassment in the first place.
The Fifth Circuit noted that this determination requires an analysis of the specific facts in each situation. In a case where the accused manager has no input over the resignation decision, or in one where no one within the company ever considered allowing an employee to reverse this decision, refusal to reconsider the request might not be deemed retaliatory. However, in situations involving claims of workplace discrimination or harassment, employers should not automatically reject employees’ requests to reconsider their decision to resign from employment.