May 31, 2016 – Recently, the United States Supreme Court resolved a split among the federal
circuits about when the limitations period begins on a constructive discharge
Green v. Brennen the Court held that the “clock for constructive discharge begins
running only after the employee resigns.”
Plaintiff Marvin Green complained that the U.S. Postal Service denied him
a promotion because he was black. After his complaint, his supervisors
accused him of intentionally delaying the mail. The parties signed agreement,
wherein U.S. the Postal Service agreed not to pursue criminal charges
if Green retired or transferred from his suburban post in Denver to Wyoming.
Green chose to retire, and then, 41 days after resigning and 96 days after
signing the agreement, Green filed a claim of constructive discharge against
his employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging
discrimination and retaliation. Federal employees have 45 days to file
a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC), which they must do before filing a lawsuit.
The district court and Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Green’s
complaint to the EEOC was untimely because he had failed to contact the
EEOC within 45 days of when he signed the agreement with the Postal Service.
Therefore, the U.S. Postal Service claimed his complaint was time-barred.
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a determination of
when Green actually resigned.
The Court held that, for a federal employee who claims he is constructively
discharged, the 45-day statute of limitations to contact the EEOC begins
to run from the date the employee resigns. The Court reasoned that a constructive
discharge claim “accrues only after an employee resigns.”
The Court also held that a constructive discharge claim accrues –
and the statute of limitations period begins to run – when the employee
gives notice of his resignation, and not on the notice’s effective
date. This means that, if an employee gives a two-week notice, the limitations
period begins on the date he or she gives the notice and not two weeks
later when the resignation is effective.
Green involved a federal employee’s responsibilities under Title VII.
However, the Court noted that the federal regulation at issue in
Green “has a statutory analog for private-sector Title VII plaintiffs,
who are required to file a charge with the EEOC within 180 or 300 days
after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” Thus,
it is likely that lower courts will apply the Court’s reasoning
to private-sector employees in evaluating constructive discharge cases.