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Supreme Court to Decide When Limitations Period Begins Running for Constructive Discharge Discrimination Claims

    Client Alerts
  • May 08, 2015
Under Title VII and related federal anti discrimination laws, aggrieved employees must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within a specified period following the last alleged act of discrimination. Some discrimination cases involve claims of constructive discharge, where an employee alleges that he or she was forced to quit due to intolerable working conditions. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to resolve a lower court split on when the limitations period begins running for constructive discharge claims.

Green v. Donahoe involves a Postal Service worker who alleges that he was forced to choose between retirement and a demotion and transfer to another position. The plaintiff quit several months after being given this choice, and filed an administrative charge alleging race discrimination. In response, the Postal Service sought dismissal of the claim, stating that the plaintiff failed to file his complaint within the limitations period applicable to discrimination charges from federal employees. The Postal Service claimed that this period began running not on the date of resignation, but as of the time that the plaintiff claims he was given the discriminatory choice to retire or move.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Postal Service, dismissing the plaintiff’s claim as untimely. This decision stands in contrast to a number of other federal appellate courts (including the Fourth Circuit), which measure the limitations period for constructive discharge claims as running from the date of resignation. The Tenth Circuit noted that under this interpretation, employees could manipulate the limitations period by quitting months after the last alleged discriminatory act by the employer. Opposing federal courts note that this reasoning forces employees to file discrimination complaints out of fear of losing their rights, instead of working to resolve the issues with the employer prior to resigning.

The Supreme Court should resolve this circuit split. The Court has not scheduled oral arguments on the case, and a decision is unlikely until the fall.