The Fear Of Retribution Not A Constructive Discharge

Randy Goff was an assistant chief of police for the City of Somerset, Kentucky. Goff supported the opponent to Eddie Girdler in the mayoral race in 2006. When Girdler won, he told the Police Chief of his intent to punish Goff and others for their support of the mayor’s opponent. Goff immediately began to examine his options.

A lawyer who met with Goff advised him that he would have a “bigger umbrella of protection as a lieutenant.” Therefore, in December 2006, Goff decided that “in order to assure the financial situation for my wife and children and myself, the best thing I could do was to resign and go back to lieutenant to try to have some protection from this man intending to punish me.” Goff resigned his position as assistant chief and reverted to lieutenant before Girdler was inaugurated as mayor on January 1, 2007.

Goff later challenged his resignation on the grounds that it was a “constructive discharge” in violation of his free speech rights under the First Amendment. A federal district court found that Goff could not show that he met the threshold for a “constructive discharge.”

To demonstrate a constructive discharge in Kentucky, an employee must show that work conditions were so unpleasant that a reasonable person in the employee’s shoes would have felt compelled to resign. As the Court described it, “Goff does not allege the work conditions in the Somerset Police Department were so unpleasant that a reasonable person would be compelled to resign. Rather, he alleges that he feared possible future retribution from the mayor-elect and, therefore, decided that taking the preemptive measure of resigning and returning to his former position as a lieutenant would be in his best interest. Goff has not cited any authority suggesting that a resignation such as Goff’s should be considered a constructive termination.”

Griffith v. Girdler, 2009 WL 1956466 (E.D. Ky. 2009).

This article appears in the November 2009 issue