Walters v. Metropolitan Ed. Enterprises, Inc. - 519 U.S. 202 (1997)


OCTOBER TERM, 1996

Syllabus

WALTERS v. METROPOLITAN EDUCATIONAL ENTERPRISES, INC., ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

No. 95-259. Argued November 6, 1996-Decided January 14, 1997*

In 1990, petitioner Walters was fired by respondent Metropolitan Educational Enterprises, Inc., soon after she filed an employment discrimination charge against it under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Petitioner Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Metropolitan, alleging that the firing violated Title VII's antiretaliation provision. Mter Walters intervened, Metropolitan filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, claiming that it was not an "employer" covered by Title VII because, at the time of the alleged retaliation, it was not "a person ... who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year." 42 U. S. C. §2000e(b). The parties have stipulated that Metropolitan failed to satisfy the 15-employee threshold in 1989; that, during most of 1990, it had between 15 and 17 employees on its payroll on each working day; and that, during 1990, there were only nine weeks in which it was actually compensating 15 or more employees on each working day. The District Court dismissed the case, relying on Circuit precedent to the effect that employees may be counted for § 2000e(b) purposes only on days on which they actually performed work or were being compensated despite their absence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Held: The ultimate touchstone under § 2000e(b) is whether an employer has employment relationships with 15 or more individuals for each working day in 20 or more weeks during the year in question. Pp. 205-212.

(a) The "payroll method"-which looks to whether the employer has an employment relationship with the employee on the day in question, as is most readily demonstrated by the individual's appearance on the employer's payroll-represents the fair reading of the statutory language. That method embodies the ordinary, contemporary, common meaning of "has [an] employe[e]." While the phrase "for each working

*Together with No. 95-779, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Metropolitan Educational Enterprises, Inc., et al., also on certiorari to the same court.


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day" suggests the possibility of a test based on whether an employee is actually at work on a given day, such a test would be impossible to administer and reflects an improbable reading of the statute. The method advocated by Metropolitan, which focuses on whether an employer is compensating the employee on the day in question, is not a plausible reading of the statutory criterion of whether the employer "has" the employee. Pp. 206-208.

(b) The payroll approach does not render superfluous the statutory qualification "for each working day." Without this phrase, one would not be sure whether to count part-week employees toward the statutory minimum. Nor is it dispositive that the payroll method produces some strange consequences with regard to Title VII's coverage, since Metropolitan's approach produces unique peculiarities of its own. The latter approach would also turn the coverage determination into an incredibly complex and expensive factual inquiry, whereas, under the payroll method, all one needs to know about a given employee for a given year is whether he started or ended employment during that year and, if so, when. He is counted as an employee for each working day after arrival and before departure. Pp.208-211.

(c) Under the payroll method, Metropolitan was an "employer" for purposes of petitioners' retaliatory-discharge claim. Pp.211-212.

60 F.3d 1225, reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Constantine John Gekas argued the cause for petitioner in No. 95-259. With him on the briefs was Adrianne S. Harvitt. Deputy Solicitor General Waxman argued the cause for petitioner in No. 95-779. On the briefs were Solicitor General Days, Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Assistant Attorney General Patrick, Deputy Solicitor General Bender, Beth S. Brinkmann, C. Gregory Stewart, Gwendolyn Young Reams, Carolyn L. Wheeler, and C. Gregory Stewart.

Patrick J. Falahee, Jr., argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents in both cases. t

tBriefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations by Jonathan P. Hiatt, Marsha S. Berzon, Virginia A. Seitz, and Laurence Gold; for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law by Lawrence J.


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