Supreme Court Overrules 10th Circuit in Important Constructive Discharge Decision

On May 23, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important decision regarding timely filing of constructive discharge claims, overruling the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. Green v. Brennan (S. Ct. 2016). The plaintiff, Marvin Green, worked for the United States Postal Service (USPS), most recently as the postmaster for Englewood, Colorado. In 2009, he alleged he was passed over for promotion to a similar position in Boulder, Colorado, because of his race. Soon thereafter, USPS accused Green of the criminal act of delaying the mail. On December 16, 2009, Green and the USPS entered into a settlement stipulating Green would retire or report to a much lower-paying position in Wyoming, in a town with a population of 451. He resigned on February 9, 2010. Forty-one days later, he submitted a discrimination claim to an EEO administrator, attempting to satisfy a regulation requiring federal civil servants to file claims within 45 days. His claim alleged constructive discharge; i.e., that working conditions were made so intolerable by discriminatory or harassing acts that a reasonable person would feel compelled to resign.

In response, USPS argued the claim was not timely filed because the alleged discriminatory acts leading to Green’s resignation took place 96 days before the filing. Both the federal District Court for the District of Colorado and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, stating the resignation was an essential part of the “matter alleged to be discriminatory.” Thus, the clock began ticking on the date of resignation—February 22, 2010—meaning the claim was timely filed.

The decision resolves a circuit split on whether filing deadlines relate to the discriminatory acts that are alleged to have forced the resignation, or the resignation itself. Although a public civil servant was involved in this case, the holding could have much broader application.