National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan

PETITIONER: National Railroad Passenger Corporation
RESPONDENT: Morgan
LOCATION: ACLU Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 00-1614
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 536 US 101 (2002)
ARGUED: Jan 09, 2002
DECIDED: Jun 10, 2002

ADVOCATES:
Ann Elizabeth Reesman - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Austin C. Schlick - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Katherine Y. K. Cheung - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Pamela Y. Price - Argued the cause for the respondent
Robin S. Conrad - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Roy T. Englert, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Roy T. Englert, Jr. - argued the cause for petitioner
Stephen A. Bokat - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal

Facts of the case

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. Abner Morgan filed a charge of discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC against National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), alleging 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." 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 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. In reversing, the Court of Appeals 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 period.

Question

May a plaintiff, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sue on employment discrimination claims that fall outside the statute's 300-day limit? May a plaintiff sue on claims that fall outside the period so long as the claims contribute to claims that took place within the period?

Media for National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 09, 2002 in National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 10, 2002 in National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court to No. 00-1614, National Railroad Passenger Corporation versus Morgan will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court Of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Respondent Abner Morgan, Jr. sued petitioner, National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 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) requires that a Title VII plaintiff file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission either 180 or 300 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.

Although many of the alleged discriminatory acts that make up Morgan’s respective claims fell outside of the statutory time period, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Morgan could sue on claims that would otherwise be time-barred so long as they were either sufficiently related to incidents that fell within the statutory time period or were part of a systematic policy or practice of discrimination that took place at least in part within the limitations period.

We granted certiorari in order to consider whether and under what circumstances a Title VII plaintiff may sue on these Acts.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse in part and affirm in part.

Because the statue provides that a litigant must file the charge within 180 or 300 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred, our inquiry focuses on when the unlawful employment practice ends.

With respect to discrete acts, the unlawful practice is typically over on the day that it happened and the statute precludes recovery for the discrete acts of discrimination or retaliation that occur outside the statutory time period regardless of whether they are related to acts inside the period.

Hostile work environment claims however occur over a series of days or perhaps years and indirect contrast to discrete acts, a single act of harassment may not be actionable on its own.

A charge alleging a hostile environment claim will not be time barred so long as all acts which constitute the claim are part of the same unlawful employment practice and at least one act falls within the time period.

Neither holding however precludes a court from applying equitable doctrines that toll or limit the time period.

Employers, for example, may raise a laches claim which bars the plaintiff from maintaining a suit if he unreasonably delays in filing and as a result harms the defendant.

Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part which the Chief Justice joins, and in which Justices Scalia and Kennedy join as to all but part one, and in which Justice Breyer joins as to part one.