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The Supreme Court Delivers Some Bad News To The Post Office

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Green v. Brennan, U.S. No. 14-613 (May 23, 2016), holding that the statute of limitations for a former Postmaster’s Title VII constructive discharge claim begins on the date he gave notice of his resignation, and not on the date of the employer’s alleged last discriminatory act.

Former Postmaster Marvin Green had 45-days, under the limitations period applicable to federal sector Title VII claims, to file his Title VII claim against his former employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The Tenth Circuit had held, using the alleged “last discriminatory act” standard (also used by the Seventh and D.C. Circuits) that Mr. Green had waited longer than 45 days to contact the EEOC from the employer’s alleged last discriminatory act, and therefore, his Title VII claims were untimely.  Breathing possible life back into his lawsuit, the Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit’s decision and held that the clock starts running on the date of notice of resignation in a Title VII constructive discharge case.  Justice Sotomayor wrote: “A plaintiff must prove first that he was discriminated against by his employer to the point where a reasonable person in his position would have felt compelled to resign….. But he must also show that he actually resigned.”

Because it was not clear to the Supreme Court when he actually tendered his resignation (when he signed a settlement agreement with the USPS or when he gave his resignation notice months later), Mr. Brennan’s case was remanded to resolve that dispute, and then, whether his EEOC complaint was timely filed from that date.

The Supreme Court did not expressly state this decision will apply in the private sector, but most legal experts to express an opinion on the topic predict it will.  While the EEOC may have different filing deadlines for federal and private sector employees, its treatment of the limitations periods, and the triggers, is identical.  Assuming so, while more constructive discharge claims may be able to survive from a timeliness standpoint, there likely is to be little consequence on the daily management of employees because of this important, albeit, procedural decision.

 

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