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U.S. Supreme Court Weighs in on Statutes of Limitation in Constructive Discharge Cases

A “constructive discharge” case is one in which the discriminatory behavior, while not amounting to a termination, is so bad that no reasonable person could be expected to tolerate and they quit. By quitting in the face of intolerable discrimination, the plaintiff has effectively ― constructively ― been discharged; and the law says that he can sue for that constructive discharge just as though the employer had fired him.

Take the example in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Green v. Brennan, issued on May 23, 2016. In that case, Mr. Green, a black man, had worked for the post office for roughly 35 years when he applied for a promotion. He did not receive the promotion, and filed an internal complaint that he did not receive it because of his race. After he made that complaint, he claims, the post office began retaliating against him; and that retaliation reached a crescendo in December 2009 with post office officials accusing him of a felony. Mr. Green claims that, as a result of the post office retaliating against him because he complained of discrimination, he resigned in early February 2010.

Thereafter, he filed a complaint with the proper administrative agency, which the law requires before a plaintiff can pursue their case in court. If a plaintiff does not file a complaint before the deadline established by law, he loses his right to sue. The problem that the Supreme Court faced in Green is that, if the deadline started running in December 2009, when the retaliation reached a crescendo, then Mr. Green’s filing would be late; if, however, his deadline started running from the date of his resignation, then it would be timely.

Luckily for Mr. Green, the Supreme Court found that his clock did not start running until he actually resigned. Beware, however, it also clarified that the clock starts running when the plaintiff gives notice of the resignation, and not on the last day of work. So, if a person gives 2-weeks’ notice, the crucial deadline starts running when he or she gives notice, not on the last day of work.

As this case demonstrates, deadlines to file with administrative agencies or courts can be confusing; and if you don’t file in time, those deadlines can also be fatal to your case. It is important for you speak with a lawyer about any and all deadlines governing your potential case.

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