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This illustrative case of Brooks v. Corecivic of Tennessee arises in the employment context, and asks whether the workplace conditions inside a detention facility were so unsafe and unhealthy that Plaintiff, Erica Brooks, had no reasonable alternative except to resign, resulting in her wrongful constructive termination from her employment.

Her employer Corecivic, is a private operator of correctional facilities with contracts for services with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the United States Marshals Service. She worked for them as a Detention Officer at the Otay Mesa Detention Center (“OMDC”) starting February 3, 2019, and worked in that capacity until her resignation on April 12, 2020.

In her lawsuit against the employer she alleges that her employer “failed to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” and lists several examples. And claims they support her lawsuit for wrongful constructive termination in violation of public policy, as well as claims for negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She brings her claims to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction, and thus California law applies.

The employer moved to dismiss the Complaint. It argues Brooks has not plead facts supporting the elements of wrongful constructive termination or negligent supervision, and that the negligent supervision and intentional infliction claims are barred by workers compensation exclusivity.

The court ruled that Plaintiff may state a constructive discharge claim based on an alleged failure to maintain a safe work environment. And the Court rejected Defendant’s argument that Plaintiff has failed to allege facts sufficient to show a constructive discharge.

The court went on to say that “Although pandemics themselves are generally uncommon events, that does not mean Defendant’s response to the pandemic falls outside the risk inherent in the employment relationship. On the contrary, one would expect employers to have some type of protocol in place to deal with this kind of catastrophic event. This is especially so considering Defendant is engaged in the operation and management of detention facilities, which are particularly susceptible to the spread of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.”

Because the obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace is inextricably part of the compensation bargain, Plaintiff’s negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims are barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity. Accordingly, the Court grants the motion to dismiss these claims.

Specifically, the Court granted the motion as to Plaintiff’s claims for negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and denied the motion as to Plaintiff’s wrongful constructive termination claims.