A significant new ruling issued earlier this month by the U.S. Supreme Court offers very good news for employees who have been the victims of discrimination that was so bad that it ultimately forced them to quit their jobs in order to escape the mistreatment. According to the Court’s 7-1 majority, the statute of limitations for pursuing a discrimination claim does not even begin to run until the date the employee resigns, as opposed to the date of the last act of discrimination. This decision delays the start of that limitations period and gives employees in Georgia and across the country an expanded period of time to begin pursuing their claims.
The case leading to this ruling began in a post office in Colorado. Marvin Green, an African-American man, applied to be the postmaster of Englewood, Colorado. Another applicant received the job, and Green launched a claim, alleging that his rejection was the result of racial discrimination. According to Green, his supervisors responded to that action by threatening him with a criminal investigation on the basis of intentionally delaying the mail. Ultimately, the supervisors and Green worked out an agreement to avoid the investigation. Green would either accept a reassignment to the tiny and isolated town of Wamsutter, Wyoming (located four hours northwest of Green’s suburban Denver job) and the dramatic pay cut that went with it… or retire.
Eight weeks later, Green resigned his job. Six weeks after resigning, Green filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that he was “constructively discharged,” or forced from his job in retaliation for his previous discrimination claim. When the employee took his case to federal court, the employer asked the judge to throw it out, arguing that the law gives federal employees 45 days to file with the EEOC, but, in Green’s case, more than 90 days had elapsed between the last discriminatory act (the “accept demotion or retire” agreement) and Green’s making his claim to the EEOC. The trial court agreed, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in favor of the employer.
The Supreme Court decided the case differently, however. The lower courts chose the wrong date as the starting point for the limitations period. The specific text of the law gives employees like Green 45 days starting with the date of the “matter alleged to be discriminatory.” The lower courts interpreted that statutory language to mean that the limitations period started on the last date of a discriminatory act by the employer. The Supreme Court, though, viewed constructive discharge cases differently. When an employee alleges constructive discharge, he must establish that the job situation was so intolerable that any reasonable person would feel no choice except to resign and that he did, in fact, resign his job. An employee who presents a case that he was constructively discharged cannot have a “complete and present” case, and the limitations period could not reasonably start, until the employee actually left his job, the majority reasoned.
Constructive discharge cases should be viewed no differently from a case involving an actual wrongful discharge. In those cases, the limitations period “clock” for filing claims doesn’t start until the employer fires the discriminated employee. Whether the employee was actually discharged or constructively discharged, the termination of employment should be viewed as the event that begins the running of the 45-day limitations period. Since Green filed 41 days after his resignation, his claim was not barred by the statute of limitations.
If your employer has illegally discriminated against you, it is important to contact experienced legal counsel about your rights right away. If your employer has violated the law, you may be entitled to lost wages, benefits, a severance package, and other damages. The Georgia race discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have extensive experience with Title VII cases and are ready and able to discuss your case with you to learn more about how we can help.
To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call (877) 986-5529.
More blog posts:
What Happens When a Patient Makes a Race-Specific Caregiver Request? Sixth Circuit Ruling Offers Insight for Tennessee Employers, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, May 6, 2016
Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Georgia Employee’s Race and Age Discrimination Claims, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, March 11, 2015