On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit 232 F. 3d 1008
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a plaintiff "shall" file an employment discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) either 180 or 300 days after an "alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." 42 U. S. C. §2000e-5(e)(1). Respondent Morgan, a black male, filed a charge of discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC against petitioner National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), and cross-filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. He alleged that he had been subjected to discrete discriminatory and retaliatory acts and had experienced a racially hostile work environment throughout his employment. The EEOC issued a "Notice of Right to Sue," and Morgan filed this lawsuit. While some of the allegedly discriminatory acts occurred within 300 days of the time that Morgan filed his EEOC charge, many took place prior to that time period. The District Court granted Amtrak summary judgment in part, holding that the company could not be liable for conduct occurring outside of the 300-day filing period. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that a plaintiff may sue on claims that would ordinarily be time barred so long as they either are "sufficiently related" to incidents that fall within the statutory period or are part of a systematic policy or practice of discrimination that took place, at least in part, within the period.
Held: A Title VII plaintiff raising claims of discrete discriminatory or retaliatory acts must file his charge within the appropriate 180- or 300-day period, but a charge alleging a hostile work environment will not be time barred if all acts constituting the claim are part of the same unlawful practice and at least one act falls within the filing period; in neither instance is a court precluded from applying equitable doctrines that may toll or limit the time period. Pp. 5-20.
(a) Strict adherence to Title VII's timely filing requirements is the best guarantee of evenhanded administration of the law. Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U. S. 807, 826. In a State having an entity authorized 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. §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 "unlawful employment practice" and when has that practice "occurred"? The answer varies with the practice. Pp. 5-7.
(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 principals may be derived from Electrical Workers v. Robbins & Myers, Inc., 429 U. S. 229, 234-235; United Air Lines, Inc. v. Evans,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas
Respondent Abner Morgan, Jr., sued petitioner National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U. S. C. §2000e et seq. (1994 ed. and Supp.V), alleging that he had been subjected to discrete discriminatory and retaliatory acts and had experienced a racially hostile work environment throughout his employment. Section 2000e-5(e)(1) (1994 ed.) requires that a Title VII plaintiff file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) either 180 or 300 days "after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." We consider whether, and under what circumstances, a Title VII plaintiff may file suit on events that fall outside this statutory time period.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a plaintiff may sue on claims that would ordinarily be time barred so long as they either are "sufficiently related" to incidents that fall within the statutory period or are part of a systematic policy or practice of discrimination that took place, at least in part, within the limitations period. We reverse in part and affirm in part. We hold that the statute precludes recovery for discrete acts of discrimination or retaliation that occur outside the statutory time period. We also hold that consideration of the entire scope of a hostile work environment claim, including behavior alleged outside the statutory time period, is permissible for the purposes of assessing liability, so long as any act contributing to that hostile environment takes place within the statutory time period. The application of equitable doctrines, however, may either limit or toll the time period within which an employee must file a charge.
On February 27, 1995, Abner J. Morgan, Jr., a black male, filed a charge of discrimination and retaliation against Amtrak with the EEOC and cross-filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Morgan alleged that during the time period that he worked for Amtrak he was "consistently harassed and disciplined more harshly than other employees on account of his race."*fn1 App. to Pet. for Cert. 25a. The EEOC issued a "Notice of Right to Sue" on July 3, 1996, and Morgan filed this lawsuit on October 2, 1996. While some of the allegedly discriminatory acts about which Morgan complained occurred within 300 days of the time that he filed his charge with the EEOC, many took place prior to that time period. Amtrak filed a motion, arguing, among other things, that it was entitled to summary judgment on all incidents that occurred more than 300 days before the filing of Morgan's EEOC charge. The District Court granted summary judgment in part to Amtrak, holding that the company could not be liable for conduct occurring before May 3, 1994, because that conduct fell outside of the 300-day filing period. The court employed a test established by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Galloway v. General Motors Service Parts Operations, 78 F. 3d 1164 (1996): A "plaintiff may not base [the] suit on conduct that occurred outside the statute of limitations unless it would have been unreasonable to expect the plaintiff to sue before the statute ran on that conduct, as in a case in which the conduct could constitute, or be recognized, as actionable harassment only in the light of events that occurred later, within the period of the statute of limitations." Id., at 1167. The District Court held that "[b]ecause Morgan believed that he was being discriminated against at the time that all of these acts occurred, it would not be unreasonable to expect that Morgan should have filed an EEOC charge on these acts before the limitations period on these claims ran." App. to Pet. for Cert. 40a.*fn2
Morgan appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, relying on its previous articulation of the continuing violation doctrine, which "allows courts to consider conduct that would ordinarily be time barred `as long as the untimely incidents represent an ongoing unlawful employment practice.' " 232 F. 3d 1008, 1014 (2000) (quoting Anderson v. Reno, 190 F. 3d 930, 936 (CA9 1999). Contrary to both the Seventh Circuit's test, used by the District Court, and a similar test employed by the Fifth Circuit,*fn3 the Ninth Circuit held that its precedent "precludes such a notice limitation on the continuing violation doctrine." 232 F. 3d, at 1015.
In the Ninth Circuit's view, a plaintiff can establish a continuing violation that allows recovery for claims filed outside of the statutory period in one of two ways. First, a plaintiff may show "a series of related acts one or more of which are within the limitations period." Ibid. Such a "serial violation is established if the evidence indicates that the alleged acts of discrimination occurring prior to the limitations period are sufficiently related to those occurring within the limitations period." Ibid. The alleged incidents, however, "cannot be isolated, sporadic, or discrete." Ibid. Second, a plaintiff may establish a continuing violation if he shows "a systematic policy or practice of discrimination that operated, in part, within the limitations period -- a systemic violation." Id., at 1015-1016.
To survive summary judgment under this test, Morgan had to "raise a genuine issue of disputed fact as to 1) the existence of a continuing violation -- be it serial or systemic," and 2) the continuation of the violation into the limitations period. Id., at 1016. Because Morgan alleged three types of Title VII claims, namely, discrimination, hostile environment, and retaliation, the Court of Appeals considered the allegations with respect to each category of claim separately and found that the pre-limitations conduct was sufficiently related to the post-limitations conduct to invoke the continuing violation doctrine for all three. Therefore, "[i]n light of the relatedness of the incidents, [the Court of Appeals found] that Morgan ha[d] sufficiently presented a genuine issue of disputed fact as to whether a continuing violation existed." Id., at 1017. Because the District Court should have allowed events occurring in the pre-limitations period to be "presented to the jury not merely as background information, but also for purposes of liability," id., at 1017-1018, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial.
We granted certiorari, 533 U. S. 927 (2001), and now reverse in part and affirm in part.
The Courts of Appeals have taken various approaches to the question whether acts that fall outside of the statutory time period for filing charges set forth in 42 U. S. C. §2000e-5(e) are actionable under Title VII. See supra, at 3-4, n. 3. While the lower courts have offered reasonable, albeit divergent solutions, none are compelled by the text of the statute. In the context of a request to alter the timely filing requirements of Title VII, this Court has stated that "strict adherence to the procedural requirements specified by the legislature is the best guarantee of evenhanded administration of the law." Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U. S. 807, 826 (1980). In Mohasco, the Court rejected arguments that strict adherence to a similar statutory time restriction*fn4 for filing a 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.*fn5 The requirement, ...