Green v. Brennan, 578 U.S. ___ (2016)




NOTE:?Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.?S. 321 .



certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

No. 14?613.?Argued November 30, 2015?Decided May 23, 2016


After petitioner Marvin Green complained to his employer, the United States Postal Service, that he was denied a promotion because he was black, his supervisors accused him of the crime of intentionally delaying the mail. In an agreement signed December 16, 2009, the Postal Service agreed not to pursue criminal charges, and Green agreed either to retire or to accept another position in a remote location for much less money. Green chose to retire and submitted his resignation paperwork on February 9, 2010, effective March 31.

On March 22?41 days after resigning and 96 days after signing the agreement?Green reported an unlawful constructive discharge to an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, an administrative prerequisite to filing a complaint alleging discrimination or retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See 29 CFR ?1614.105(a)(1). Green eventually filed suit in Federal District Court, which dismissed his complaint as untimely because he had not contacted the counselor within 45 days of the ?matter alleged to be discriminatory,? ibid. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, holding that the 45-day limitations period began to run on December 16, the date Green signed the agreement.


1. Because part of the ?matter alleged to be discriminatory? in a constructive-discharge claim is an employee?s resignation, the 45-day limitations period for such action begins running only after an employee resigns. Pp.?4?15.

(a) Where, as here, the regulatory text itself is not unambiguously clear, the Court relies on the standard rule for limitations periods, which provides that a limitations period ordinarily begins to run ???when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action,???Graham County Soil & Water Conservation Dist. v. United States ex rel. Wilson, 545 U.?S. 409 . Applied here, that rule offers three persuasive reasons to include the employee?s resignation in the limitations period. Pp.?4?10.

(i) First, resignation is part of the ?complete and present cause of action? in a constructive-discharge claim, which comprises two basic elements: discriminatory conduct such that a reasonable employee would have felt compelled to resign and actual resignation,Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, 542 U.?S. 129 . Until he resigns, an employee does not have a ?complete and present cause of action? for constructive discharge. Under the standard rule, only after the employee has a complete and present cause of action does that trigger the limitations period. In this respect, a constructive-discharge claim is no different from an ordinary wrongful-discharge claim, which accrues only after the employee is fired. Pp.?6?8.

(ii) Second, although the standard rule may be subject to exception where clearly indicated by the text creating the limitations period, nothing in Title VII or the regulation suggests such displacement. To the contrary, it is natural to read ?matter alleged to be discriminatory? as including the allegation forming the basis of the claim, which confirms the standard rule?s applicability. Pp.?8?9.

(iii) Third, practical considerations also confirm the merit of applying the standard rule. Starting the clock ticking before a plaintiff can actually file suit does little to further the limitations period?s goals and actively negates Title VII?s remedial structure. A ?limitations perio[d] should not commence to run so soon that it becomes difficult for a layman to invoke the protection of the civil rights statutes.?Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U.?S. 250 , n.?16. Nothing in the regulation suggests a two-step process in which an employee would have to file a complaint after an employer?s discriminatory conduct, only to be forced to amend that complaint to allege constructive discharge after resigning. Requiring that a complaint be filed before resignation occurs would also, e.g., ignore that an employee may not be in a position to leave his job immediately. Pp.?9?10.

(b) Arguments against applying the standard rule here are rejected. Suders stands not for the proposition that a constructive discharge is tantamount to a formal discharge for remedial purposes only, but for the rule that constructive discharge is a claim distinct from the underlying discriminatory act, 542 U.?S., at 149. Nor was Green?s resignation the mere inevitable consequence of the Postal Service?s discriminatory conduct. Ricks, 449 U.?S. 250 , distinguished. Finally, the important goal of promoting conciliation through early, informal contact with a counselor does not warrant treating a constructive discharge different from an actual discharge for purposes of the limitations period. Pp.?10?15.

2. A constructive-discharge claim accrues?and the limitations period begins to run?when the employee gives notice of his resignation, not on the effective date thereof. The Tenth Circuit is left to determine, in the first instance, the date that Green in fact gave notice. P.?16.

760 F.?3d 1135, vacated and remanded.

Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.?J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion.