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Clark County Sch. Dist. v. Breeden

Supreme Court of the United States

April 23, 2001, Decided

No. 00-866

Opinion

 [***512]   [**1509]   [*269]  PER CURIAM.

 ] Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 255, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a), it is unlawful "for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees . . . because [the employee] has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by [Title VII], or because [the employee] has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under [Title VII]." In 1997, respondent filed a § 2000e-3(a) retaliation claim against petitioner Clark County School District. The claim as eventually amended alleged that petitioner had taken two separate adverse employment actions against her in response to two different protected activities in which she had engaged. The District Court granted summary judgment to petitioner, No. CV-S-97-365-DWH(RJJ) (D. Nev., Feb. 9, 1999), but a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed over the dissent of Judge Fernandez, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 17564, No. 99-15522, 2000 WL 991821 (July 19, 2000)  [***513]  (per curiam) (unpublished), judgt.  [****2]  order reported at 232 F.3d 893. We grant the writ of certiorari and reverse.

On October 21, 1994, respondent's male supervisor met with respondent and another male employee to review the psychological evaluation reports of four job applicants. The report for one of the applicants disclosed that the applicant had once commented to a co-worker, "I hear making love to you is like making love to the Grand Canyon." Brief in Opposition 3. At the meeting respondent's supervisor read the comment aloud, looked at respondent and stated, "I don't know what that means." Ibid. The other employee then said, "Well, I'll tell you later," and both men chuckled. Ibid. Respondent later complained about the comment to the offending employee, to Assistant Superintendent George Ann Rice, the employee's supervisor, and to another assistant  [*270]  superintendent of petitioner. Her first claim of retaliation asserts that she was punished for these complaints.

 The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has applied § 2000e-3(a) to protect employee "opposition" not just to practices that are actually "made . . . unlawful" by Title VII, but also to practices that the employee could reasonably believe were [****3]  unlawful. 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 17564, 2000 WL 991821, at *1 (stating that respondent's opposition was protected "if she had a reasonable, good faith belief that the incident involving the sexually explicit remark constituted unlawful sexual harassment"); Trent v. Valley Electric Assn. Inc., 41 F.3d 524, 526 (CA9 1994).We have no occasion to rule on the propriety of this interpretation, because even assuming it is correct, no one could reasonably believe that the incident recounted above violated Title VII.

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532 U.S. 268 *; 121 S. Ct. 1508 **; 149 L. Ed. 2d 509 ***; 2001 U.S. LEXIS 3365 ****; 69 U.S.L.W. 3684; 85 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 730; 80 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P40,442; 2001 Cal. Daily Op. Service 3153; 2001 Daily Journal DAR 3893; 14 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 216

CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT v. SHIRLEY A. BREEDEN

Prior History:  [****1]  ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Disposition: Judgment of Court of Appeals reversed.

CORE TERMS

causality, protected activity, sexual

Business & Corporate Compliance, Unfair Labor Practices, Employer Violations, Interference With Protected Activities, Labor & Employment Law, Discrimination, Title VII Discrimination, General Overview, Retaliation, Gender & Sex Discrimination, Federal & State Interrelationships, Employment Practices, Compensation, Sexual Harassment, Compensation Discrepancies, Criminal Law & Procedure, Crimes Against Persons, Coercion & Harassment, Elements, Burdens of Proof, Standards of Proof, Objective & Subjective Standards, Pervasive & Severe Standards, Scope & Definitions