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Employment — Title VII — retaliation

U.S. Supreme Court


Employment — Title VII — retaliation

Title VII retaliation claims must be proved according to traditional principles of but-for causation, not the lessened causation test stated in §2000e–2(m).

Title VII’s antiretaliation provision appears in a different section from its status-based discrimination ban. And, like §623(a)(1), the ADEA provision in Gross, §2000e–3(a) makes it unlawful for an employer to take adverse employment action against an employee “because” of certain criteria. Given the lack of any meaningful textual difference between §2000e–3(a) and §623(a)(1), the proper conclusion is that Title VII retaliation claims require proof that the desire to retaliate was the but-for cause of the challenged employment action. Respondent and the United States maintain that §2000e–2(m)’s motivating-factor test applies, but that reading is flawed. First, it is inconsistent with the provision’s plain language, which addresses only race, color, religion, sex, and national origin discrimination and says nothing about retaliation. Second, their reading is inconsistent with the statute’s design and structure. Congress inserted the motivating-factor provision as a subsection within §2000e–2, which deals only with status-based discrimination. The conclusion that Congress acted deliberately in omitting retaliation claims from §2000–2(m) is reinforced by the fact that another part of the 1991 Act, §109, expressly refers to all unlawful employment actions. See EEOC v. Arabian American Oil Co., 499 U. S. 244, 256. Third, the cases they rely on, which state the general proposition that Congress’ enactment of a broadly phrased antidiscrimination statute may signal a concomitant intent to ban retaliation against individuals who oppose that discrimination, see, e.g., CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, 553 U. S. 442, 452–453; Gómez-Pérez v. Potter, 553 U. S. 474, do not support the quite different rule that every reference to race, color, creed, sex, or nationality in an antidiscrimination statute is to be treated as a synonym for “retaliation,” especially in a precise, complex, and exhaustive statute like Title VII. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which contains seven paragraphs of detailed description of the practices constituting prohibited discrimination, as well as an express antiretaliation provision, and which was passed only a year before §2000e–2(m)’s enactment, shows that when Congress elected to address retaliation as part of a detailed statutory scheme, it did so clearly.

674 F. 3d 448, vacated and remanded.

12-484 University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar


Kennedy, J.; Ginsburg, J., dissenting.

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