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Employment discrimination case heard by U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard a case that presents an issue for which the lower federal courts, including those in California, are in conflict. The question is when does an employee's resignation from a job constitute a constructive termination to meet the requirements of the civil rights laws? The employment discrimination case deals with the regulations regarding federal employees of the U.S. Postal Service.

First, it is important to understand that an employee does not always have to stay on the job -- he or she may quit if the employment discrimination is intolerable and essentially makes it impossible for the employee to continue. That is called a constructive termination in the parlance of employment discrimination law. The date of the termination may, however, have consequences regarding whether a claim for damages under the civil rights laws is timely filed.

The issue in the case was generated by the forced resignation of a postal employee who was clearly harassed and discriminated against by postal authorities when he tried to get a promotion to a better position as postmaster. In order to qualify to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim of discrimination, the law requires that a federal employee must consult an EEO counselor within 45 days of the occurrence of the discrimination. The Postal Service argues that the 45 days began to run when the employee first announced his retirement. The employee argues that it begins to run when he submitted his resignation, which was several weeks later.

However, the lower federal court judge threw the case out by accepting the position of the Postal Service, which made the employee's employment discrimination claim untimely filed. To boil down the complex fine points of the case, the Supreme Court members asked their usual pointed and penetrating questions of both counsel during the argument recently held. Some public reports indicate that the tide of votes on this issue seems to fall in favor of the employee, but of course, that won't be known for sure until the decision is announced and published. After the Court decides the case, federal courts in California and in all other jurisdictions will follow the decision as there will no longer -- at least theoretically -- be conflicting versions of the law on this issue.

Source: slate.com, "Supreme Court hears Green constructive discharge racism case.", Mark Joseph Stern, Dec. 1, 2015

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