Cite as: 536 U. S. 101 (2002)
Opinion of the Court
is insufficient to prolong the life of a cause of action for employment discrimination." Ibid. In order for the time period to commence with the discharge, "he should have identified the alleged discriminatory acts that continued until, or occurred at the time of, the actual termination of his employment." Ibid. He could not use a termination that fell within the limitations period to pull in the time-barred discriminatory act. Nor could a time-barred act justify filing a charge concerning a termination that was not independently discriminatory.
We derive several principles from these cases. First, discrete discriminatory acts are not actionable if time barred, even when they are related to acts alleged in timely filed charges. Each discrete discriminatory act starts a new clock for filing charges alleging that act. The charge, therefore, must be filed within the 180- or 300-day time period after the discrete discriminatory 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 in support of a timely claim.
As we have held, however, this time period for filing a charge is subject to equitable doctrines such as tolling or estoppel. See Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U. S. 385, 393 (1982) ("We hold that filing a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit in federal court, but a requirement that, like a statute of limitations, is subject to waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling"). Courts may evaluate whether it would be proper to apply such doctrines, although they are to be applied sparingly. See Baldwin County Welcome Center v. Brown, 466 U. S. 147, 152 (1984) (per curiam) ("Procedural requirements established by Congress for gaining access to
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