This past Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-1 in Green v. Brennan that the limitations period for filing a constructive discharge claim under Title VII begins to run on the date the employee gives notice of his intent to resign, not when the underlying discriminatory action occurred.

The case was brought by plaintiff, Marvin Green, an African-American male who worked for the U.S. Postal Service. In 2008, he was passed over for a promotion. Shortly after, he complained he was denied the promotion because of his race. Thereafter, Green’s relations with his supervisor deteriorated, with tension reaching its peak in December 2009 when two of his supervisors accused Green of the crime of intentionally delaying the mail. Later that same month, on December 16, 2009, Green and the Postal Service reached an agreement under which the Postal Service agreed not to pursue criminal charges against Green, provided that he agreed to either retire or accept a position at a remote location, hundreds of miles away at a salary significantly lower than he had had been earning.

Green opted to retire and tendered his resigna­tion on February 9, 2010, with an effective date of March 31.  On March 22 – 41 days after resigning and 96 days after signing the settlement agreement – Green contacted an EEOC counselor to report an unlawful constructive discharge.  Green subsequently filed suit in federal district court.  The Postal Service successfully moved for summary judgment, arguing that the controlling statute of limitations required Green to contact an EEOC counselor within 45 days of the “matter alleged to be discriminatory,” and thus, the 45 days started upon Green’s signing of the settlement agreement on December 16, not upon his subsequent resignation.  On appeal, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the 45-day limitations period began to run on December 16, the date Green signed the agreement.

Due to a split amongst the circuits, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Green’s appeal from the 10th Circuit. The Court ruled that a constructive discharge claim accrues only after an employee resigns and based its rationale on the fact that “the constructive-discharge doctrine contemplates a situation in which an employer discriminates against an employee to the point that working conditions become so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have felt compelled to resign . . . an employee cannot bring a constructive-discharge claim until he is constructively discharged.

While the Court’s ruling favored the employee in this instance, employers and defense counsel nevertheless, can and should appreciate the refreshing sense of black-and-white certainty it brings to this legal issue.

Julie Moore is a Member in the firm’s Morgantown office. Julie focuses her practice primarily in labor and employment law. She regularly advises and counsels employers – both private and public – on various aspects of employment law, ranging from wage and hour compliance, to employee discipline and termination issues, to disability accommodation requests.
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