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Selected Supreme Court Decisions 2000 - 2022

The various laws that govern EEOC's actions are subject to interpretation by the federal court system, and most importantly by the Supreme Court. These interpretations have at times reinforced, and at other times forced change upon, EEOC's role as a law enforcement agency.

Some of the most significant such cases have been collected here.

(Selected Supreme Court Decisions 1971 - 1999)


  • In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), consolidated with two related cases—EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral HomesInc., and Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc.—the Supreme Court held that Title VII’s “because of . . . sex” provision prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The Supreme Court affirmed the Sixth Circuit’s ruling for the EEOC in Harris Funeral Homes, which held that defendant’s termination of a funeral director because she was transgender constituted sex discrimination under Title VII. The Court also affirmed the Second Circuit’s ruling in Altitude Express, where the EEOC supported plaintiff as amicus curiae in the court of appeals, that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation constitutes sex discrimination. 
  • In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, 140 S. Ct. 2049 (2020), the Supreme Court, agreeing with the position of the EEOC as set forth in the Department of Justice’s amicus curiae brief, held that the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws applied to two elementary school teachers at Catholic schools who taught religion classes along with the rest of the curriculum. The Court said that because the teachers in these cases were required to instruct their students in the Catholic faith and to guide them in how to live their lives according to Catholic principles, they fell within the ministerial exception.


  • In Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 1843 (2019), the Supreme Court held that Title VII’s charge-filing requirement is not jurisdictional but instead is a claim-processing rule subject to forfeiture. The Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s ruling that the defendant in the instant case had forfeited the argument that the plaintiff failed to file an EEOC charge, because defendant did not make the objection until years into the litigation.


  • Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, 139 S. Ct. 22 (2018). In a unanimous 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court held that the ADEA requirement that to be subject to the prohibition against age discrimination employers must have at least 20 employees does not apply to state or political subdivisions, and that the statute covers these public employers regardless of size. The Court affirmed the EEOC’s 30-year interpretation of the ADEA.


  • In McLane Corp. v. EEOC, 137 S. Ct. 1159 (Apr. 3, 2017), the Supreme Court agreed with both the Commission and McLane Corp. that a court of appeals should review a district court’s decision on whether to enforce an EEOC Title VII subpoena under an abuse of discretion standard.


  • In CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. E.E.O.C.578 U.S. 419 (2016), the Supreme Court held in a unanimous opinion that a Title VII defendant may be eligible for attorney’s fees as a “prevailing party” even if the “court’s final judgment rejects the plaintiff’s claim for a nonmerits reason.”  The Supreme Court rejected the Eighth Circuit’s holding that a prevailing Title VII defendant is not entitled to fees unless it obtains a ruling on the merits of the Title VII claim.
  • In Green v. Brennan, 578 U.S. 547 (2016), the Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations begins to run on a constructive discharge claim when an employee gives the employer notice of his intent to resign.


  • The Supreme Court holds in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 2028 (2015), in an 8-1 decision in favor of the EEOC, that it was a violation of the law to fail to accommodate an applicant who wore a hijab.
  • In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), 135 S.Ct. 1338 (2015), the Supreme Court holds that a pregnant worker wishing to show disparate treatment through indirect evidence may do so through the applica­tion of the McDonnell Douglas framework. In reaching this holding, the court reverses summary judgment in favor of UPS.
  • In Mach Mining v. EEOC, 135 S.Ct. 1645 (2015), the Supreme Court holds that "a court may review whether the EEOC satisfied its statutory obligation to attempt conciliation before suit[, but] the scope of that review is narrow." Judicial review is limited to whether the EEOC has "inform[ed] the employer about the specific allegation" and whether the EEOC has "tr[ied] to engage the employer in some form of discussion."


  • The Supreme Court holds in Vance v. Ball State University, 133 S.Ct. 2434 (2013), that an employer may be held vicari­ously liable for a supervisor's unlawful harassment only when the employer has empowered that person to take tangible employment actions against the victim.
  • The Supreme Court holds in University of Texas Southwestern Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517 (2013), that the "but for" causation standard applies to Title VII's retaliation provision.


  • The Supreme Court holds in Kloeckner v. Solis, 133 S.Ct. 596 (2012), that all federal employee "mixed-case" appeals from the MSPB involving both employment discrimination and Civil Service Reform Act claims are appealable to the federal district court instead of the federal courts of appeals, even if the MSPB decided the case on procedural grounds.


  • The Supreme Court holds in Thompson v. North American Stainless, L.P., 562 U.S. 170 (2011) that Title VII provides a cause of action to an employee who was allegedly discharged in retaliation for his fiancée's protected activity against the same employer.
  • In Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 562 U.S. 411 (2011), the Supreme Court holdsthat an employer can be liable, under certain circumstances, for the discriminatory animus of a supervisor who did not make the ultimate employment decision. The court interpreted language in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) that is similar to language in Title VII.
  • In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 131 S.Ct. 1325 (2011), the Supreme Court holds that the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act covers oral as well as written complaints. (The same retaliation provision applies under the EPA.)
  • In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541 (2011), the Supreme Court holds that a group of plaintiffs seeking injunctive and declaratory relief and back pay, on behalf of a nationwide class of 1.5 million female employees, cannot pursue a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2).


  • The Supreme Court holds in Lewis v. City of Chicago, 560 U.S. 205 (2010), that an employee who does not challenge the adoption of an allegedly discriminatory practice - "here, an emp­loyer's decision to exclude employ­ment applicants who did not achieve a certain score on an examination - may assert a disparate impact claim in a timely charge challenging the employer's later application of that practice." Thus, African-American firefighter appli­cants had cognizable disparate impact claims under Title VII each time the city hired from an eligibility list based on an allegedly discriminatory written exam.


  • The Supreme Court holds in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, TN, 555 U.S. 271 (2009), that the opposition clause of Title VII's anti-retaliation provision protects individ­uals who provide information as part of an employer's investigation of alleged discrimination.
  • In 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 556 U.S. 247 (2009), the Supreme Court holds that a collectively bargained mandatory arbitration agreement that covers claims of employment discrim­ination is enforceable.
  • In AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen, 556 U.S. 701 (2009),the Supreme Court holds that an employer does not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) by paying pension benefits pursuant to a bona fide seniority plan that provides less service credit for pregnancy leave taken before the enactment of the PDA than for other forms of short-term disability leave.
  • In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167 (2009), the Supreme Court holds that plaintiffs must always show that age was the "but for" cause of discrimination to establish ADEA liability.
  • In Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557 (2009) the Supreme Court holds that Title VII prohibits an employer from discarding the results of a promotion test that has a racially disparate impact unless the employer can demonstrate a strong basis in evidence to believe that relying on the results would subject the employer to disparate-impact liability.


  • In Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389 (2008), the Supreme Court holdsthat a filing with the EEOC constitutes an ADEA charge if it meets the charge-filing requirements of 29 CFR § 1626.6, which require it to: 1) be in writing, 2) include an allegation of discrimination, 3) name the charged respondent, and 4) be "reasonably construed as a request for the [EEOC] to take remedial action to protect the employee's rights or otherwise settle a dispute between the employer and the employee."
  • The Supreme Court holds in Gomez-Perez v. Potter, 553 U.S. 474 (2008), that Section 633(a) of the ADEA prohibits retaliation against federal employees who complain about age discrim­ination.
  • The Supreme Court holds in Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Lab, 554 U.S. 84 (2008) that an employer defending an ADEA disparate impact claim bears both the burden of production and the burden of persuasion on the reasonable factors other than age (RFOA) defense.
  • The Supreme Court holds in Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, 554 U.S. 135 (2008), that a disability retirement plan that discriminated on the basis of pension eligibility did not violate the ADEA, even though pension eligibility was based on age, because the employer was not "actually motivated" by age.


  • The Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc. 550 U.S. 618 (2007) (superseded by the Lilly Ledbetter statute), holds that the period for filing an EEOC charge challenging pay discrimination begins when the pay-setting decision is made and, therefore, that a Title VII charge ordinarily must be filed within 180/300 days of the time when that decision was originally made.


  • The Supreme Court holds in Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006), that the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII (Section 704(a)) is not limited to dis­criminatory actions affecting a term, condition, or privilege of employment, and thus is broader than Title VII's core anti-discrimin­ation provision (Section 703(a)).
  • In Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 540 U.S. 500 (2006), the Supreme Court holds that the question of whether a defendant meets the 15employee requirement for employer status under Title VII does not affect the district court's jurisdiction, but rather goes to the merits of the plaintiff's claims. The Supreme Court reverses the appeals court and further holds that that the defendant's argument with respect to the number of employees was a defense to liability which could be waived if not timely raised in the trial court. The EEOC joins the amicus brief filed by the Solicitor General and the Supreme Court agreed with the government's position.


  • The Supreme Court holds in Smith v. City of Jackson, Mississippi, 544 U.S. 228 (2005), that the ADEA authorizes recovery in disparate impact cases and permits the employer defense that the challenged action was based on a "reasonable factor other than age."


  • In Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129 (2004), the Supreme Court ruled that when a supervisor's "official act" precipitates an employee's constructive discharge, the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense is not available to the employer. Employers can otherwise raise the defense if an employee alleges she was constructively discharged because of harassment. EEOC joined the amicus brief filed by the Solicitor General.
  • The Supreme Court holds in General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline , 540 U.S. 581 (2004), that the ADEA does not prevent an employer from favoring an older employee over a relatively younger one.


  • In Clackamas Gastroenterology Associates, P.C. v. Wells, 538 U.S. 440 (2003), the Supreme Court holds that the status of a particular individual as an "employee" under the ADA should be based on the common law definition of "employee," which focuses on the extent to which the individual is subject to the employer's control.
  • The Supreme Court holds in Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90 (2003), that direct evidence of discrimination is not required for a plaintiff to receive a mixed-motive jury instruction under Section 703(m) of Title VII.
  • In Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 581 (2003), the Court rules that, under the ADA, a neutral no-rehire policy is a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for refusing to rehire an employee who had a record of drug addiction.


  • In Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002) (superseded by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)), the Supreme Court rules that a person is substantially limited in a major life activity, within the meaning of the ADA, if s/he has "an impairment that prevents or significantly restricts the individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most people's daily lives."
  • The Supreme Court holds in EEOC v. Waffle House, 534 U.S. 279 (2002), that an agreement to arbitrate between an employee and employer does not bar the EEOC from pursuing victim-specific relief on behalf of an employee who files a timely charge of discrimination.
  • In Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137 (2002), the Court rules that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 forecloses the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from making a back pay award to an undocumented worker under the National Labor Relations Act, where the worker had never been legally authorized to work in the United States. The EEOC modeled its approach to Title VII back pay for workers without documentation on the NLRB's approach.
  • Edelman v. Lynchburg College, 535,U.S. 106 (2002), the Court holds that the EEOC's relation-back rule, 29 C.F.R. § 1601.12(b), is valid. This rule permits an otherwise timely-filed charge to be verified after the expiration of the filing period.
  • US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391 (2002), held that an employer's showing that a requested accommodation conflicts with seniority rules is ordinarily sufficient to demonstrate, as a matter of law, that an accommodation is not "reasonable" under the ADA.
  • The Court found in Chevron U.S.A., Inc., v. Echazabal, 536 U.S. 73(2002), that the EEOC's ADA regulation interpreting the statute to give employers an affirmative defense based on direct threat to self.
  • In National R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002), the Court ruled that an employer may be liable for all acts contributing to a hostile work environment as long as one of the contributing acts occurred within the applicable 180/300-day filing period.


  • The Supreme Court holds in Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001) that state employees do not have the right to sue their employers for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). State employees may still file disability discrimination complaints with the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the EEOC, which can sue states on their behalf.


  • The Supreme Court holds in Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62 (2000), that older workers cannot sue state agencies for damages under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).