Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 3 (1997)

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Cite as: 519 U. S. 337 (1997)

Opinion of the Court

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court. Section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful "for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment" who have either availed themselves of Title VII's protections or assisted others in so doing. 78 Stat. 257, as amended, 42 U. S. C. 2000e-3(a). We are asked to decide in this case whether the term "employees," as used in 704(a), includes former employees, such that petitioner may bring suit against his former employer for postemployment actions allegedly taken in retaliation for petitioner's having filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, held that the term "employees" in 704(a) referred only to current employees and therefore petitioner's claim was not cognizable under Title VII. We granted certiorari, 517 U. S. 1154 (1996), and now reverse.


Respondent Shell Oil Co. fired petitioner Charles T. Robinson, Sr., in 1991. Shortly thereafter, petitioner filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging that respondent had discharged him because of his race. While that charge was pending, petitioner applied for a job with another company. That company contacted respondent, as petitioner's former employer, for an employment reference. Petitioner claims that respondent gave him a negative reference in retaliation for his having filed the EEOC charge.

L. Norton, Stephen R. Shapiro, Sara L. Mandelbaum, and Martha F. Davis; and for the National Employment Lawyers Association by Douglas A. Hedin and Robert Belton.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the Equal Employment Advisory Council by Robert E. Williams and Ann Elizabeth Reesman; and for the Washington Legal Foundation by J. Thomas Kil-patrick, Daniel J. Popeo, and Paul D. Kamenar.


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