SCOTUS Holds That a Constructive Discharge Claim Accrues on the Resignation Date for Statute of Limitations Purposes

In Green v. Brennan, No. 14-613, 578 U.S. ___ (decided May 23, 2016), the Supreme Court held that the 45-day statute of limitations “clock” for purposes of a federal employee’s “constructive discharge” claim begins running on the date of the employee’s resignation, rather than on the date of the alleged discriminatory actions prompting the employee’s resignation.

Justice Sotomayor wrote:

Before a federal civil servant can sue his employer in court for discriminating against him in violation of Title VII, he must first exhaust his administrative remedies. 42 U. S. C. §2000e–16(c). To exhaust those remedies, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has promulgated regulations that require, among other things,that a federal employee consult with an EEO counselor prior to filing a discrimination lawsuit. Specifically, he “must initiate contact with a Counselor within 45 days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory“[.] …

Applying th[e] default rule [that a limitations period commences when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action], we are persuaded that the“matter alleged to be discriminatory” in a constructive-discharge claim necessarily includes the employee’s resignation for three reasons. First, in the context of a constructive-discharge claim, a resignation is part of the“complete and present cause of action” necessary before a limitations period ordinarily begins to run. Second, nothing in the regulation creating the limitations period here, [29 C.F.R.] § 1614.105, clearly indicates an intent to displace this standard rule. Third, practical considerations confirm the merit of applying the standard rule here. We therefore interpret the term “matter alleged to be discriminatory” for a constructive-discharge claim to include the date [petitioner] resigned. (Emphasis added.)

Here, the petitioner, a postmaster, alleged that he was passed over for a promotion because of his race. He contacted an EEO counselor within 45 days of his resignation, but more than 45 days after the Postal Service’s alleged discriminatory actions.

Applying the above rule, the Court held that the Tenth Circuit was incorrect in affirming summary judgment against the petitioner on the ground that his claim was time barred.

While this opinion technically applies to the interpretation of a regulation that applies to federal employees only, it notes the similarities between that regulation’s language and Title VII’s statute of limitations provision applicable to private-sector employees.

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