SOL for Title VII Constructive Discharge Cases Begins to Run Upon Resignation
The United States Supreme Court resolved a circuit split and created a bright line rule in Green v. Brennan for constructive discharge cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Simply put, the Court held that in constructive discharge cases, the statute of limitations begins running on the date of the employee’s actual resignation as opposed to the date of the employer’s last alleged discriminatory act. This makes it much easier for courts to calculate the deadline for filing charges of discrimination in constructive discharge cases than it previously had been.
Unlike typical wrongful termination cases, in a constructive discharge case, an employee resigns from his/her position and typically claims that the work environment was such that they had no choice but to do so. In effect, the resignation is deemed and alleged to be an adverse job action.
The case involved the charges filed by petitioner Green, an employee with the United States Postal Service (USPS). Green was a postmaster in Colorado who alleged that he was passed over for a promotion to a neighboring postmaster position due to his race. He further alleged that he complained of being passed over, his superiors threatened him with criminal charges for delaying the mail, and reported him to the Office of Inspector General. He was then reassigned and even though the OIG never filed charges against him, his supervisors continued to threaten him and say that any criminal charges would be a “life changer.” They eventually offered to allow him to transfer to a much smaller, out of state post office, or allow him to resign in exchange for their agreement to not pursue any criminal charges. Green chose to resign.
Ninety-six days after he signed the settlement agreement and forty-one days after submitting his resignation papers, Green filed a claim with an Equal Employment Officer (EEO) alleging that he was forced to resign in violation of Title VII. As a federal employee, Green was required to make contact with the EEO within forty five (45) days of the “matter alleged to be discriminatory.” Accordingly, when he filed a federal complaint against the USPS for constructive discharge, the USPS moved for summary judgment stating that Green’s complaint was untimely because the alleged discriminatory act was the date the settlement agreement was executed and not the date Green submitted his resignation papers.
The United States Supreme Court reversed, holding that the date of the “matter alleged to be discriminatory” is the date the employee actually submits his resignation. The Court held that the “matter alleged to be discriminatory” actually includes the employee’s resignation because the resignation is needed to complete the present cause of action. It also noted that this has been the standard rule and nothing in the regulations created an intent to displace the rule.
Finally, the Court noted several practical considerations. First an employee may not be able to financially afford to resign immediately following the employer’s last alleged discriminatory act. The employee would then have to file a complaint following the discriminatory act and later amend it to include constructive discharge once the employee has resigned. Additionally, such a complaint without the employee’s resignation could risk the employee’s termination, which the employee would then have to disclose in future job applications.
Overall, the Court in Green v. Brennan resolved a circuit split and made it clear that the statute of limitations in Title VII constructive discharge cases begins to run upon the employee’s resignation. While employers may view this decision as an extension of the statute of limitations on constructive discharge claims, the Court simplified this issue by creating a brightline rule. If you have any questions about potential constructive discharge claims or any other employment matter, please contact one of our attorneys at Trimboli & Prusinowski, LLC for assistance.