Green v. Brennan

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Employment Law
  • Date Filed: May 23, 2016
  • Case #: 14-613
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed a concurring opinion. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

In a constructive discharge claim, the “matter alleged to be discriminatory” includes an employee’s resignation and therefore, the 45-day limitation period begins to run only after the employee resigns.

Petitioner, a postmaster, complained that he was denied a promotion because of his race. Subsequently, Petitioner’s relationship with his supervisors declined and two supervisors accused him of intentionally delaying the mail. Petitioner and Respondent signed a settlement agreement that gave Petitioner the choice of retiring or relocating for a lower salary. Petitioner chose to retire. Before a federal civil servant can sue an employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act they must initiate contact with an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor “within 45 days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory.” Petitioner contacted an EEO counselor 41 days after submitting his resignation paperwork, but 96 days after signing the agreement with Respondent. Petitioner later filed suit in District Court, during which Respondent argued that Petitioner did not contact an EEO counselor within the 45-day limitation period. The District Court agreed with Respondent and the Tenth Circuit affirmed, holding that the 45-day period began when both parties signed the settlement agreement. The Supreme Court reversed and held that the 45-day limitation period for a constructive discharge claim began when Petitioner resigned. The standard rule for limitations periods provides that a limitation period begins when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action, which is defined as when the plaintiff can file suit and obtain relief. Resignation is a necessary element of a constructive discharge claim and an employee cannot bring such a claim until he is constructively discharged. Thus, a complete and present cause of action does not exist until resignation. The Supreme Court reasoned that nothing in the text of the statute suggests that the standard rule should not be used. VACATED and REMANDED.

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