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Constructive Discharge and the Statute of Limitations


Discrimination in the workplace is against the law and employees are protected by several federal anti-discrimination statutes. If an employee believes they have suffered discrimination at the hands of an employer, they can file a lawsuit in federal court to protect their rights and recover for the damage that discrimination has caused. However, as with many types of legal claims, there are specific deadlines for filing these lawsuits which, if they are not met, can result in losing your right to recovery forever.

The Case of Green v. Brennan

The United States Supreme Court was asked to decide a very important question relating to statutes of limitation in the Green v. Brennan case. In that case, the issue was exactly when does the filing period end for constructive discharge cases. Constructive discharge refers to working environments that are so unbearable, so filled with discrimination and/or retaliation, that an employee feels forced to quit.

In Green v. Brennan, the plaintiff alleged that he was denied a promotion at the Postal Service because of his race and then suffered retaliation after he complained. He also alleged that he was wrongfully accused of delaying the mail which is a criminal offense. The Office of Inspector General investigated the allegations against the plaintiff, during which time he was reassigned to off-duty status. Even after the investigation ended and no action was taken against the Plaintiff, his employer agreed not to pursue criminal charges against him if he agreed to retire or accept a transfer to a position in another state with less pay.

Forced Retirement Considered Constructive Discharge

In response to his employer’s offer, the plaintiff chose to retire but later contacted the EEOC to file a claim for constructive discharge. The issue that arose in that case was whether he met the statute of limitations deadline when he contacted the EEOC. As a federal employee, the plaintiff was required to file his claim within 45 days of the occurrence of discrimination. But, when there is a constructive discharge, when does that occur? Is it the day the employee quit or the day of the employer’s last discriminatory decision?

The U.S. Supreme Court decided that the statute of limitations period for constructive discharge claims begins when the constructive discharge occurs. It is reasonable for the period to start then because, until the employee quits or is forced to resign, he or she cannot actually have a claim for constructive discharge. Otherwise, the employee would have to file a claim after the discriminatory act and then amend the claim after the resignation. A two-step process such as that is not necessary.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!

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