SCOTUS Rules on Filing Period for Constructive Discharge Claims

Marvin Green was an employee for the U.S. Postal Service for 35 years.  He had been passed over for a position due to his race and later his supervisors accused him of a criminal offense making work difficult for Mr. Green. After an investigation by the Inspector General, an agreement was entered into by Green and the Postal Service on December 16, 2009, giving Green a choice of retiring or being reassigned to a remote location at a lower salary.  Mr. Green submitted his resignation on February 9, 2010 to become effective March 31, 2010. On March 22 – 41 days after Green submitted his resignation and 96 days after signing the agreement — Mr. Green complained to the EEOC and later sued in federal district court in Colorado claiming that the Postal Service had constructively discharged him. The legal concept of constructive discharge is recognized in most states in which an employee quits because the working conditions have become so intolerable that he or she can no longer work for the employer. A federal appeals court dismissed Green’s case after ruling that he had waited too long to file a complaint. According to regulations promulgated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), federal employees are required to consult with an EEO counselor within 45 days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory prior to filing a discrimination suit.

In April 2015, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case to decide a circuit split concerning whether the filing period for a constructive discharge claim begins to run when an employee resigns or at the time of an employer’s last allegedly discriminatory act giving rise to the resignation. The issue in Green’s case — what is the matter alleged to be discriminatory? Was it Green’s signing of the settlement agreement on December 16 or the submission of Green’s resignation letter on February 9? On May 23, 2016, the Supreme Court Justices ruled 7-1 that workers who bring “constructive discharge” claims have 45 days from the time they resign to begin the process. This ruling gives employees more time to bring bias lawsuits for discriminatory acts that occurred months or years before legal action begins. The key takeaway in this case is that a bright line rule has been provided for employers facing constructive discharge.

*Note – While federal employees have 45 days to file a complaint, employees in the private sector have 180 days or up to 300 days to file a charge with a state agency. The Supreme Court’s rationale applies to employees in the private sector as well.