The U.S. Supreme Court recently address the issue of when the statute of limitations begins to run for civil servants who want to file a discrimination claim against their employer. The Court held 7-1 that the statute of limitations begins on the date of the action which was alleged to be discriminatory.
The case involved Marvin Green, a former employee of the U.S. Postal Service. Green began working for the Postal Service in 1973. In 2002, he was promoted to be the postmaster in Englewood, Colorado. Six years later, a postmaster position opened up in Boulder, Colorado, and Green applied. He did not receive the position, which he claimed was due to racial discrimination against him as an African-American. He filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) claim against the Postal Service, which was settled. Shortly thereafter, Green filed another EEO claim alleging that he was being retaliated against for filing his earlier discrimination claim.
At the time these complaints were being filed, the Postal Service alleged that Green was the subject of several internal Postal Service investigations. Green’s supervisors alleged that he had been intentionally delaying the mail, which is a federal criminal offense.
On December 16, 2009, both Green and the Postal Service signed an agreement which stated that the Postal Service would not press criminal charges against Green if he agreed to either retire or take a position at a lower salary in a different post office. Green agreed to resign.
On February 9, 2010, Green submitted his resignation paperwork with an effective date of March 31, 2009.
On March 22, 2009, Green contacted an EEO counselor to report that he had been constructively discharged and forced into resignation due to his race. As a federal public servant, Green was required to notify the EEOC of any claims within 45 days of “the matter alleged to be discriminatory.” In the ensuing lawsuit, the Post Office argued that Green had missed the 45-day deadline.
The district court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal found for the Postal Service, deciding that the 45-day statute of limitation began to run in December when Green and the Postal Service signed their agreement. On appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the justices reversed.
The Supreme Court found that the language in the statute was ambiguous. In interpreting the law, the Court relied on other rules of interpretation for statutes of limitations, and found that the clock only begins to run when the plaintiff has a complete cause of action for a lawsuit. The Court said that a constructive discharge claim like Green’s had two required parts: first, enough discrimination that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign, and second, actual resignation. Since Green had not technically resigned until he submitted his resignation paperwork in February, the statute of limitation had not run out when he reported his EEO claim in March.
This ruling helps people who work for federal and state government agencies. When a person experiences discrimination or harassment as a public servant, the law places strict limitations on when a claim must be filed. Under this new ruling, people who were harassed or discriminated against while at work may have additional time to report their claims to the EEOC and file a lawsuit.
If you are unsure if you have a discrimination or harassment claim, it is important to speak with an wrongful termination lawyer in Chico immediately so that you can protect your right to sue.
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