The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments recently related to time limits for filing a lawsuit based on constructive discharge. Courts nationwide have split on the issue of when the clock starts running on the time limit for federal employees to make a claim, and the Supreme Court will now rule and provide a definitive answer so employees will have a better understanding of their rights.
Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Constructive Discharge Case
Federal regulations give an employee 45 days to file a claim for constructive discharge when their work environment becomes so unbearable they have no choice but to leave their jobs. The federal rule stipulates the clock begins running on the 45 day period from the moment a discriminatory act occurred. However, courts throughout the United States have split on the issue of whether the 45-days expires 45 days from the last discriminatory act that led to the resignation, or whether the clock begins running from the actual date when the employee resigned.
One employee who filed suit found his constructive discharge complaint was dismissed because the appellate court adopted the first rule and said the time limit had expired 45 days from the last discriminatory act. He appealed, and the Supreme Court will now address the issue.
The employee whose employment discrimination case made it to the Supreme Court worked for the U.S. postal service for 35 years. The employee, who is an African American man, applied for a more senior position, but claims he did not get the job as a result of racial discrimination after the job was given to someone who was less qualified.
The Postal Service subsequently began investigating him, accusing him of delaying the delivery of mail. He was placed on unpaid leave, but nothing ever came of the accusations against him. The uncertainty of what would happen, especially as delaying mail is a federal crime, resulted in his union representative scrambling to try to work out a quick settlement for him. His options were to retire or to be demoted, take a $40,000 pay cut, and be relocated to a tiny town in Wyoming.
The deal allowed him three months to use his accrued vacation and sick time before making a decision on which option to take. However, with no resolution in sight and time running out, he gave notice of his resignation on March 31, 2010, which was the last day of his sick leave. A total of 41 days later, he filed a complaint for constructive discharge. The question was whether this was within the time limit for filing the complaint or not, since only 41 days had passed since his resignation but more than 45 days had passed since the discriminatory act leading to the resignation.
It remains to be seen how the court will rule, but hopefully the court will allow more time for federal workers to make constructive discharge claims so there is broader protection for workers subject to discriminatory acts.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
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