National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 21 (2002)

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

Opinion of the Court

we cannot say that they are not part of the same actionable hostile environment claim.13 On this point, we affirm.


Our holding does not leave employers defenseless against employees who bring hostile work environment claims that extend over long periods of time. Employers have recourse when a plaintiff unreasonably delays filing a charge. As noted in Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U. S. 385 (1982), the filing period is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to filing a Title VII suit. Rather, it is a requirement subject to waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling "when equity so requires." Id., at 398. These equitable doctrines allow us to honor Title VII's remedial purpose "without negating the particular purpose of the filing requirement, to give prompt notice to the employer." Ibid.

This Court previously noted that despite the procedural protections of the statute "a defendant in a Title VII enforcement action might still be significantly handicapped in making his defense because of an inordinate EEOC delay in filing the action after exhausting its conciliation efforts." Occidental Life Ins. Co. of Cal. v. EEOC, 432 U. S. 355, 373 (1977). The same is true when the delay is caused by the employee, rather than by the EEOC. Cf. Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U. S. 405, 424 (1975) ("[A] party may not be 'entitled' to relief if its conduct of the cause has improperly and substantially prejudiced the other party"). In such cases, the federal courts have the discretionary power to "to locate 'a just result' in light of the circumstances peculiar to the case." Id., at 424-425.

In addition to other equitable defenses, therefore, an employer may raise a laches defense, which bars a plaintiff from maintaining a suit if he unreasonably delays in filing a suit and as a result harms the defendant. This defense " 're-13 We make no judgment, however, on the merits of Morgan's claim.


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