Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 9 (1997)

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

Opinion of the Court

ence that inclusion of the term "applicants" demonstrates intentional exclusion of former employees.

Finally, the use of the term "individual" in 704(a), as well as in 703(a), 42 U. S. C. 2000e-2(a), provides no meaningful assistance in resolving this case. To be sure, "individual" is a broader term than "employee" and would facially seem to cover a former employee. But it would also encompass a present employee as well as other persons who have never had an employment relationship with the employer at issue. The term "individual," therefore, does not seem designed to capture former employees, as distinct from current employees, and its use provides no insight into whether the term "employees" is limited only to current employees.


Finding that the term "employees" in 704(a) is ambiguous, we are left to resolve that ambiguity. The broader context provided by other sections of the statute provides considerable assistance in this regard. As noted above, several sections of the statute plainly contemplate that former employees will make use of the remedial mechanisms of Title VII. See supra, at 342-343. Indeed, 703(a) expressly includes discriminatory "discharge" as one of the unlawful employment practices against which Title VII is directed. 42 U. S. C. 2000e-2(a). Insofar as 704(a) expressly protects employees from retaliation for filing a "charge" under Title VII, and a charge under 703(a) alleging unlawful discharge would necessarily be brought by a former employee, it is far more consistent to include former employees within the scope of "employees" protected by 704(a).

In further support of this view, petitioner argues that the word "employees" includes former employees because to hold otherwise would effectively vitiate much of the protection afforded by 704(a). See Brief for Petitioner 20-30. This is also the position taken by the EEOC. See Brief for


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