National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 2 (2002)

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102

NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION v. MORGAN

Syllabus

in all other States, the charge must be filed within 180 days. 2000e- 5(e)(1). The operative statutory terms of 2000e-5(e)(1), the charge filing provision, are "shall," "after . . . occurred," and "unlawful employment practice." "[S]hall" makes the act of filing a charge within the specified time period mandatory. "[O]ccurred" means that the practice took place or happened in the past. The requirement, therefore, that the charge be filed "after" the practice "occurred" means that a litigant has up to 180 or 300 days after the unlawful practice happened to file with the EEOC. The critical questions for both discrete discriminatory acts and hostile work environment claims are: What constitutes an "un-lawful employment practice" and when has that practice "occurred"? The answer varies with the practice. Pp. 108-110.

(b) A party must file a charge within either 180 or 300 days of the date that a discrete retaliatory or discriminatory act "occurred" or lose the ability to recover for it. Morgan asserts that the term "practice" provides a statutory basis for the Ninth Circuit's continuing violation doctrine because it connotes an ongoing violation that can endure or recur over a period of time. This argument is unavailing, however, given that 2000e-2 explains in great detail the sorts of actions that qualify as "[u]nlawful employment practices," including among them numerous discrete acts, without indicating in any way that the term "practice" converts related discrete acts into a single unlawful practice for timely filing purposes. And the Court has repeatedly interpreted the term "practice" to apply to a discrete act of single "occurence," even where it has a connection to other acts. Several principles may be derived from Electrical Workers v. Robbins & Myers, Inc., 429 U. S. 229, 234-235; United Air Lines, Inc. v. Evans, 431 U. S. 553, 558; and Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U. S. 250, 257. First, discrete discriminatory acts are not actionable if time barred, even when they are related to acts alleged in timely filed charges. Because each discrete act starts a new clock for filing charges alleging that act, the charge must be filed within the 180- or 300-day period after the act occurred. The existence of past acts and the employee's prior knowledge of their occurrence, however, does not bar employees from filing charges about related discrete acts so long as the acts are independently discriminatory and charges addressing those acts are themselves timely filed. Nor does the statute bar an employee from using the prior acts as background evidence to support a timely claim. In addition, the time period for filing a charge remains subject to application of equitable doctrines such as waiver, estoppel, and tolling. See Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U. S. 385, 393. While Morgan alleged that he suffered from numerous discriminatory and retaliatory acts from the date he was hired through the date he was fired, only those acts that occurred within the applicable 300-day filing period are actionable.

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