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A Lesson from the Feds: When Enough is Enough

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in an employment law case involving a federal employee who filed a discrimination lawsuit based on what he believed to be constructive discharge, or a discriminatory environment that forced him to resign. The allegations are similar to many such cases and likely will be very difficult for him to prove. However, the issue before the court is one that may not allow the employee’s story to even reach the ears of a jury.  Specifically, it is whether the plaintiff filed the charge of discrimination within the statutory 45-day limitations period. If not, the action may not proceed forward and the employee will not be able to seek recourse under the applicable law.

Statutes of Limitation

Typically, federal anti-discrimination laws provide employees with a 180-day period within which to file a complaint. However, federal employees have a different and much shorter standard. The 45-day period provided to federal employees (or applicants) begins tolling at the occurrence of the adverse action. That means, from the point at which the act of discrimination occurred, an employee or applicant has 45 days to file a complaint or it will be time barred.  Rather than filing a complaint with the EEOC, as occurs in the private sector, federal employees and applicants must file their complaints with the alleged discriminatory agency. This difference in procedure is intended to allow the agency to handle any disputes with their prospective, current or past employees internally so as to provide faster resolutions for employees.

Green v. Brennan

The case before the Supreme Court asks the following question: “Whether…the filing period for a constructive discharge claim begins to run when an employee resigns…or at the time of an employer’s last allegedly discriminatory act giving rise to the resignation?” This question has thus far caused a divide in the federal circuits, which is why litigants as well as federal agency employers are eagerly awaiting the decision.

According to one source following the proceedings, the Court’s answer to this question was not made clear after oral arguments, despite some interesting questions and hypotheses offered by the Justices. For example, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged the hardships that employees face in situations involving hostile work environments and events leading to constructive discharge cases; however, he also mentioned that many employees “will set a resignation date at some point in the future.” Justice Sotomayor also had some questions surrounding an employee’s motivation to leave a job they otherwise would remain in for years.

Whether or not the court finds in favor of the plaintiff in this case, its decision will have a great impact on the millions of federal applicants, employees, and former employees who believe they are being subjected to a work environment so hostile that they would rather quit than continue on for one more day. It could either open or close the door on thousands of lawsuits nationwide.

Need Help?

If you are a federal employee or applicant who has been discriminated against, do not delay.  Call the law offices of Garcia & Gurney today and talk with an experienced attorney about your situation.  Our office can help you navigate the complicated agency processes to ensure that your rights are protected.

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