Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 8 (1997)

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Opinion of the Court

lyzed to determine whether the context gives the term a further meaning that would resolve the issue in dispute.4

Respondent argues that the addition of the word "his" before "employees" narrows the scope of the provision. Brief for Respondent 19. That argument is true, so far as it goes, but it does not resolve the question before us—namely, in what time frame must the employment relationship exist. The phrase "his employees" could include "his" former employees, but still exclude persons who have never worked for the particular employer being charged with retaliation.

Nor are we convinced by respondent's argument that Congress' inclusion in 704(a) of "applicants for employment" as persons distinct from "employees," coupled with its failure to include "former employees," is evidence of congressional intent not to include former employees. The use of the term "applicants" in 704(a) does not serve to confine, by negative inference, the temporal scope of the term "employees." Respondent's argument rests on the incorrect premise that the term "applicants" is equivalent to the phrase "future employees." But the term "applicants" would seem to cover many persons who will not become employees. Unsuccessful applicants or those who turn down a job offer, for example, would have been applicants, but not future employees. And the term fails to cover certain future employees who may be offered and will accept jobs without having to apply for those jobs. Because the term "applicants" in 704(a) is not synonymous with the phrase "future employees," there is no basis for engaging in the further (and questionable) negative infer-4 Petitioner's examples of non-Title VII cases using the term "employee" to refer to a former employee are largely irrelevant, except to the extent they tend to rebut a claim that the term "employee" has some intrinsically plain meaning. See, e. g., Richardson v. Belcher, 404 U. S. 78, 81, 83 (1971) (unemployed disabled worker); Nash v. Florida Industrial Comm'n, 389 U. S. 235, 239 (1967) (individual who had been fired); Flemming v. Nestor, 363 U. S. 603, 611 (1960) (retired worker).

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