Does Cause or Effect Trigger the Statute of Limitations in Constructive Discharge?

In Green v. Brennan, No. 14-613, 2016.SCT.0003401 (May 23, 2016) (VersusLaw), Green brought suit for constructive discharge against his employer, the U.S. Postal Service. Green, postmaster at an Englewood, Colorado office, applied for a promotion at a nearby Boulder office and was turned down. He complained that he was denied the promotion because of his race. After he made the allegation, his supervisors charged him with intentionally delaying the mail. This triggered a criminal investigation. Though the initial inquiry found no merit to the claims, Green’s superiors did not tell him that. Instead they allowed him to believe it was ongoing. They told him his choice was either resign or face criminal charges that could ruin him. He signed an agreement with the Postal Service in December saying he would either retire within the coming three months or transfer to a different location with a substantially lower salary. Feeling he had no options, Green resigned per the agreement.

Forty-one days after resigning, Green met with an EEO counselor to explain the situation amounting to constructive discharge. He then filed suit. The Post Office argued that the meeting with the EEO counselor came too late to comply with the requirement that a Federal civil servant initiate contact with an EEO counselor within 45 days of a discriminatory matter or be foreclosed from pursuing litigation. The Post Office argued that the discriminatory matter referred to actions by the employer the last of which had occurred more than 45 days before the EEO meeting. They argued Green’s actual resignation could not be characterized as “employer action” under the law.

The Supreme Court disagreed holding that a cause of action cannot accrue until the plaintiff has a complete cause of action. Where the claim is constructive discharge, resignation is a necessary element of the claim. Citing to Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129, 141 (2004), the court explained the plaintiff, to prove constructive discharge, must show a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign and that he did resign. No relief can be awarded without showing both elements. Just as a wrongful discharge action accrues upon firing; a constructive discharge action accrues upon resignation.


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