National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 9 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 101 (2002)

Opinion of the Court

charge was "unfair" or that "a less literal reading of the Act would adequately effectuate the policy of deferring to state agencies." Id., at 824-825. Instead, the Court noted that "[b]y choosing what are obviously quite short deadlines, Congress clearly intended to encourage the prompt processing of all charges of employment discrimination." Id., at 825. Similarly here, our most salient source for guidance is the statutory text.

Title 42 U. S. C. 2000e-5(e)(1) is a charge filing provision that "specifies with precision" the prerequisites that a plaintiff must satisfy before filing suit. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U. S. 36, 47 (1974). An individual must file a charge within the statutory time period and serve notice upon the person against whom the charge is made. In a State that has an entity with the authority to grant or seek relief with respect to the alleged unlawful practice, an employee who initially files a grievance with that agency must file the charge with the EEOC within 300 days of the employment practice; in all other States, the charge must be filed within 180 days. A claim is time barred if it is not filed within these time limits.

For our purposes, the critical sentence of the charge filing provision is: "A charge under this section shall be filed within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." 2000e-5(e)(1) (emphasis added). The operative terms are "shall," "after . . . occurred," and "unlawful employment practice." "[S]hall" makes the act of filing a charge within the specified time period mandatory. See, e. g., Lexecon Inc. v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, 523 U. S. 26, 35 (1998) ("[T]he mandatory 'shall,' . . . normally creates an obligation impervious to judicial discretion"). "[O]ccurred" means that the practice took place or happened in the past.5 The require-5 "In the absence of an indication to the contrary, words in a statute are assumed to bear their 'ordinary, contemporary, common meaning.' " Walters v. Metropolitan Ed. Enterprises, Inc., 519 U. S. 202, 207


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