Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 7 (1997)

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

Opinion of the Court

discriminatory discharge, as it often does, the "employee" who must be notified is necessarily a former employee. Similarly, 717(c) provides that an "employee or applicant for employment, if aggrieved by the final disposition of his complaint, . . . may file a civil action . . . ." 42 U. S. C. 2000e-16(c). Again, given that discriminatory discharge is a forbidden "personnel actio[n] affecting employees," see 717(a), 42 U. S. C. 2000e-16(a), the term "employee" in 717(c) necessarily includes a former employee. See Loeffler v. Frank, 486 U. S. 549 (1988) (involving a discriminatory discharge action successfully brought under 717 by a former Postal Service employee).3

Of course, there are sections of Title VII where, in context, use of the term "employee" refers unambiguously to a current employee, for example, those sections addressing salary or promotions. See 703(h), 42 U. S. C. 2000e-2(h) (allowing different standards of compensation for "employees who work in different locations"); 717(b), 42 U. S. C. 2000e- 16(b) (directing federal agencies to establish a plan "to provide a maximum opportunity for employees to advance so as to perform at their highest potential").

But those examples at most demonstrate that the term "employees" may have a plain meaning in the context of a particular section—not that the term has the same meaning in all other sections and in all other contexts. Once it is established that the term "employees" includes former employees in some sections, but not in others, the term standing alone is necessarily ambiguous and each section must be ana-3 Other sections also seem to use the term "employees" to mean something other than current employees. Section 701(c) defines "employment agency" as "any person regularly undertaking . . . to procure employees for an employer or to procure for employees opportunities to work for an employer . . . ." 42 U. S. C. 2000e(c). This language most naturally is read to mean "prospective employees." Section 701(e) uses identical language when providing that a labor organization affects commerce if it "operates a hiring hall or hiring office which procures employees for an employer . . . ." 42 U. S. C. 2000e(e).


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