Discrimination at Work: Why You Need to Act Fast

June 22, 2017

In the case of Green v. Brennan, Marvin Green was a mailman experiencing racial discrimination at work in the form of threats, harassment and demeaning comments. After filing informal complaints against his employer, Green was subjected to retaliation in the form of further harassment. The Postal Service’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office advised Green to then file a formal charge but, unfortunately, he neglected to do so.

Several months later, after Green was investigated for multiple infractions—another act of retaliation by his employer, the Postal Service offered him a settlement agreement that also included his resignation. Green pursued legal action toward the Postal Service, alleging that he was constructively discharged, meaning he was forced out of his position with the company.

A judge, however, dismissed Green’s case as untimely, and an appeals court affirmed the ruling. Federal employment law requires constructive discharge plaintiffs to contact an EEOC officer within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory matter and by the time Green reached out, it had been 96 days since he had signed the settlement paperwork. Even if all the facts in Green’s complaint were true, the court held that his case could not move forward.

The Appeal

On an appeal to the Supreme Court, Green fought that the statute of limitations began on the day he resigned because of constructive discharge since those circumstances led to his cause of action. The Court sided in Green’s favor and determined that the time limit in such cases should be 45 days, beginning to run on the date an employee notifies his employer that he intends to quit his job. Marvin Green filed his claim 41 days after resigning, making his case viable.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained that “the ‘matter alleged to be discriminatory’ in a constructive discharge claim necessarily includes the employee’s resignation.” Sotomayor noted that, according to the “standard rule” governing statutes of limitations, the “limitations period commences when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action.”

It means that period begins when the plaintiff “can file suit and obtain relief.” Plaintiffs may only sue for constructive discharge when “working conditions become so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have felt compelled to resign.” So a constructive discharge plaintiff only has a “complete and present cause of action” once he has actually quit.

Acting fast after you have experienced discrimination at work is important for the outcome of your case as well as your future, as we have learned in this situation. The limitations period begins when you inform your employer of your resignation—not your actual last day of work—and you only have 45 days after that to file a claim.

You don’t have to go through a discrimination claim alone. Contact our offices for a free consultation. We will listen to your discrimination story and guide you in the right direction, whether it is to move forward with a suit or to seek remediation with the help of our firm.