Law School Case Brief
AMTRAK v. Morgan - 536 U.S. 101, 122 S. Ct. 2061 (2002)
A hostile work environment claim is comprised of a series of separate acts that collectively constitute one unlawful employment practice. The timely filing provision,42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-5(e)(1), only requires that a plaintiff file a charge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., within a certain number of days after the unlawful practice happened. It does not matter, for purposes of the statute, that some of the component acts of the hostile work environment fall outside the statutory time period. Provided that an act contributing to the claim occurs within the filing period, the entire time period of the hostile environment may be considered by a court for the purposes of determining liability. That act need not, however, be the last act. As long as the employer has engaged in enough activity to make out an actionable hostile environment claim, an unlawful employment practice has "occurred," even if it is still occurring. Subsequent events, however, may still be part of the one hostile work environment claim and a charge may be filed at a later date and still encompass the whole.
Plaintiff Abner J. Morgan, Jr., who was African-American and a former employee of defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation, a.k.a. Amtrak, filed a racial discrimination charge against Amtrak with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), as well as the appropriate California state agency, alleging that he had been subjected to discrete acts of racial discrimination and retaliation as well as a racially hostile work environment. After the EEOC issued a right to sue letter, Morgan filed a discrimination action against Amtrak in federal district court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e. It was established that while some of the allegedly discriminatory acts had occurred within 300 days of the time Morgan filed the charge with the EEOC, many had occurred prior to that time period. The district court, in granting in part Amtrak's motion for summary judgment, held that Amtrak could not be liable for conduct that occurred outside the 300-day filing period. The district court denied summary judgment to Amtrak with respect to those claims it held were timely filed. The remaining claims then proceeded to trial, where the jury returned a verdict in favor of Amtrak. Morgan appealed the summary judgment, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that an employee could maintain a suit on the basis of alleged conduct that ordinarily would be time-barred so long as the conduct was: (1) sufficiently related to incidents that fell within the statutory period, or; (2) part of a systematic policy or practice that occurred at least in part within the period. Amtrak was granted a writ of certiorari.
Did Title VII preclude recovery for discrete acts of discrimination or retaliation that occurred outside the statutory time period?
The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed in part and reversed in part the appellate court's judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The Court ruled that a Title VII plaintiff raising claims of discrete discriminatory or retaliatory acts was required to file his or her EEOC charge within the 180- or 300-day period. Thus, the Court ruled, the incidents of discrete discriminatory and retaliatory acts alleged by Morgan that occurred outside the 300-day filing period were time-barred, and that part of the appellate court's judgment was reversed. However, the Court ruled, because Morgan's hostile work environment claim was comprised of a series of separate acts that collectively constituted one unlawful employment practice, Title VII's timely filing provision only required that he file a charge within a certain number of days after the unlawful practice happened. It did not matter, for purposes of the statute, that some of the component acts of the hostile work environment fell outside the statutory time period. Provided that an act contributing to the claim occurred within the filing period, the entire time period of the hostile environment could be considered by a court for the purposes of determining liability. Thus, the Court affirmed that part of the appellate court's judgment.
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