Quick Hits

  • The Connecticut Appellate Court ruled that a plaintiff’s constructive discharge complaint under state law cannot rely on her resignation date as the start of the limitations period.
  • The appellate court ruled the limitations period runs from the last act of discrimination, distinguishing it from federal employee claims under Title VII.

In Twerdahl v. Wilton Public Schools, a three-judge panel for the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed a lower court’s decision dismissing claims brought by a former teacher for Wilton Public Schools, alleging that the school district subjected her to intolerable discrimination to force her to resign so it could replace her with a younger teacher.

Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-82(f) requires claims to be ‘‘filed within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged act of discrimination.” The appellate court held that the limitations period for a constructive discharge claim under Section 46a-82(f) begins to run following the last instance of alleged discrimination, not from an employee’s resignation date.

Background

Robin Twerdahl, who had worked for Wilton Public Schools for twenty-four years, alleged that the school forced her to resign (constructive discharge) at seventy years old by “creat[ing] an intolerable work environment” so that it could replace her with a younger teacher.

Twerdahl resigned from her position on August 14, 2019, and filed an age discrimination complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) on December 19, 2019. After receiving a release of jurisdiction from the CHRO, she filed suit in state court alleging violations of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, constructive discharge, and breach of contract.

A Connecticut trial court granted the school’s motion to strike the claims for being untimely. Twerdahl later amended her complaint leaving only the constructive discharge claim. Twerdahl claimed that the school district had failed to take any remedial action following a June 10, 2019, investigative report that determined the school’s assistant principal had made errors on a negative performance evaluation given to her. Twerdahl alleged that, as a result of the school district’s “discriminatory treatment of [her], she was in constant fear of being ridiculed or even terminated” and was forced to resign approximately thirty days later when it became apparent that the school district had no intention of taking remedial action. The court again struck Twerdahl’s claims as untimely.

Discriminatory Act vs. Matter

On appeal, Twerdahl argued the trial court had erred in granting the school’s motion to strike and pointed to the 2016 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in Green v. Brennan, which found that the statute of limitations for constructive discharge claims by federal employees begins to run from the employee’s date of resignation.

In that case, the Supreme Court held that federal employees are required to consult with  a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) counselor “within 45 days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory” but found that the “matter alleged to be discriminatory” may include an employee’s resignation. The decision set the precedent that in constructive discharge cases, the claim does not accrue and the limitations period does not begin to run until the employee actually resigns.

The Connecticut Appellate Court declined to follow that reasoning in interpreting the Connecticut statute of limitations. The appellate court found that not only is the comparison inappropriate, but that the language in the federal law (which started the clock of “the matter alleged to be discriminatory”) materially differed from Connecticut law, which the court said “specifically applies to the employer’s discriminatory act.” (Emphasis in original).

The appellate court affirmed the judgment for the school district, finding that the teacher had not alleged any specific discriminatory action that led to her resignation within the limitations period and that the “[m]ere continuity of employment, without more, is insufficient to prolong the life of a cause of action for employment discrimination.”

Key Takeaways

The Twerdahl case is significant in that it highlights a key difference between the limitations period for discrimination claims under Connecticut and federal law in constructive discharge cases. Key to the appellate court’s ruling was that the Connecticut law states that the limitations period runs from a particular discriminatory “act” and that the act does not include an employee’s resignation.

The decision is a good reminder that plaintiffs in constructive discharge cases may not be able to rely on the date of their resignation as the start of the limitations period clock, and simple alleged ongoing discrimination based on a failure of the employer to redress some prior act of discrimination is not sufficient to keep the clock from running.

Ogletree Deakins’ Stamford office will continue to monitor developments and will provide updates on the Connecticut and Employment Law blogs.

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