Walters v. Metropolitan Ed. Enterprises, Inc., 519 U.S. 202, 8 (1997)

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Cite as: 519 U. S. 202 (1997)

Opinion of the Court

sated on a particular day) if indeed the ordinary meaning of "has fifteen or more employees" rendered "for each working day" superfluous. Statutes must be interpreted, if possible, to give each word some operative effect. United States v. Menasche, 348 U. S. 528, 538-539 (1955). But we do not agree that giving "has fifteen or more employees" its ordinary meaning renders "for each working day" superfluous. Without that qualification, it would be unclear whether an employee who departed in the middle of a calendar week would count toward the 15-employee minimum for that week; with the qualification, it is clear that he does not. Similarly, the adjective "working" within the phrase "for each working day" eliminates any ambiguity about whether employees who depart after the end of the workweek, but before the end of the calendar week, count toward the 15-employee minimum for that week.

The Court of Appeals thought that the mere exclusion of part-week employees was an improbable purpose of the phrase. "[I]nstances where employees begin work on Wednesdays or depart on Thursdays," it said, "are unlikely to occur with sufficient frequency to merit inclusion in a federal anti-discrimination statute." 60 F. 3d, at 1228. But it is not a matter of carving out special treatment for this (supposedly minuscule) class—as would be the case if, without the phrase "for each working day," part-week employees would unquestionably be counted toward the statutory minimum. Without the phrase one would not be sure whether to count them or not, and in at least some cases the matter would have to be litigated. (Does a company have 15 employees "in" a week where, on all except the last workday, it has only 14? "In" a week where it hires a new employee on Saturday, a nonworkday, to begin on the next Monday? "In" a week where, in mid-week, one of 14 employees quits and is replaced by a different 14th employee?) We are decidedly of the view that the "mere" elimination of evident ambiguity is ample—indeed, admirable—justification for the inclusion


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