University of Tex. Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar - 12-484 (2013)
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SOUTHWESTERN MEDICAL CENTER, PETITIONER v. NAIEL NASSAR
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit
[June 24, 2013]
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.
When the law grants persons the right to compensation for injury from wrongful conduct, there must be some demonstrated connection, some link, between the injury sustained and the wrong alleged. The requisite relation between prohibited conduct and compensable injury is governed by the principles of causation, a subject most often arising in elaborating the law of torts. This case requires the Court to define those rules in the context of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. §2000e et seq., which provides remedies to employees for injuries related to discriminatory conduct and associated wrongs by employers.
Title VII is central to the federal policy of prohibiting wrongful discrimination in the Nation’s workplaces and in all sectors of economic endeavor. This opinion discusses the causation rules for two categories of wrongful employer conduct prohibited by Title VII. The first type is called, for purposes of this opinion, status-based discrimination. The term is used here to refer to basic workplace protection such as prohibitions against employer discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, in hiring, firing, salary structure, promotion and the like. See §2000e–2(a). The second type of conduct is employer retaliation on account of an employee’s having opposed, complained of, or sought remedies for, unlawful workplace discrimination. See §2000e–3(a).
An employee who alleges status-based discrimination under Title VII need not show that the causal link between injury and wrong is so close that the injury would not have occurred but for the act. So-called but-for causation is not the test. It suffices instead to show that the motive to discriminate was one of the employer’s motives, even if the employer also had other, lawful motives that were causative in the employer’s decision. This principle is the result of an earlier case from this Court, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U. S. 228 (1989) , and an ensuing statutory amendment by Congress that codified in part and abrogated in part the holding in Price Waterhouse, see §§2000e–2(m), 2000e–5(g)(2)(B). The question the Court must answer here is whether that lessened causation standard is applicable to claims of unlawful employer retaliation under §2000e–3(a).
Although the Court has not addressed the question of the causation showing required to establish liability for a Title VII retaliation claim, it has addressed the issue of causation in general in a case involving employer discrimination under a separate but related statute, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U. S. C. §623. See Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U. S. 167 (2009) . In Gross, the Court concluded that the ADEA requires proof that the prohibited criterion was the but-for cause of the prohibited conduct. The holding and analysis of that decision are instructive here.
Petitioner, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (University), is an academic institution within the University of Texas system. The University specializes in medical education for aspiring physicians, health professionals, and scientists. Over the years, the University has affiliated itself with a number of healthcare facilities including, as relevant in this case, Parkland Memorial Hospital (Hospital). As provided in its affiliation agreement with the University, the Hospital permits the University’s students to gain clinical experience working in its facilities. The agreement also requires the Hospital to offer empty staff physician posts to the University’s faculty members, see App. 361–362, 366, and, accordingly, most of the staff physician positions at the Hospital are filled by those faculty members.
Respondent is a medical doctor of Middle Eastern descent who specializes in internal medicine and infectious diseases. In 1995, he was hired to work both as a member of the University’s faculty and a staff physician at the Hospital. He left both positions in 1998 for additional medical education and then returned in 2001 as an assistant professor at the University and, once again, as a physician at the Hospital.
In 2004, Dr. Beth Levine was hired as the University’s Chief of Infectious Disease Medicine. In that position Levine became respondent’s ultimate (though not direct) superior. Respondent alleged that Levine was biased against him on account of his religion and ethnic heritage, a bias manifested by undeserved scrutiny of his billing practices and productivity, as well as comments that “ ‘Middle Easterners are lazy.’ ” 674 F. 3d 448, 450 (CA5 2012). On different occasions during his employment, respondent met with Dr. Gregory Fitz, the University’s Chair of Internal Medicine and Levine’s supervisor, to complain about Levine’s alleged harassment. Despite obtaining a promotion with Levine’s assistance in 2006, respondent continued to believe that she was biased against him. So he tried to arrange to continue working at the Hospital without also being on the University’s faculty. After preliminary negotiations with the Hospital suggested this might be possible, respondent resigned his teaching post in July 2006 and sent a letter to Dr. Fitz (among others), in which he stated that the reason for his departure was harassment by Levine. That harassment, he asserted, “ ‘stems from . . . religious, racial and cultural bias against Arabs and Muslims.’ ” Id., at 451. After reading that letter, Dr. Fitz expressed consternation at respondent’s accusations, saying that Levine had been “publicly humiliated by th[e] letter” and that it was “very important that she be publicly exonerated.” App. 41.
Meanwhile, the Hospital had offered respondent a job as a staff physician, as it had indicated it would. On learning of that offer, Dr. Fitz protested to the Hospital, asserting that the offer was inconsistent with the affiliation agreement’s requirement that all staff physicians also be members of the University faculty. The Hospital then withdrew its offer.
After exhausting his administrative remedies, respondent filed this Title VII suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. He alleged two discrete violations of Title VII. The first was a status-based discrimination claim under §2000e–2(a). Respondent alleged that Dr. Levine’s racially and religiously moti- vated harassment had resulted in his constructive discharge from the University. Respondent’s second claim was that Dr. Fitz’s efforts to prevent the Hospital from hiring him were in retaliation for complaining about Dr. Levine’s harassment, in violation of §2000e–3(a). 674 F. 3d, at 452. The jury found for respondent on both claims. It awarded him over $400,000 in backpay and more than $3 million in compensatory damages. The District Court later reduced the compensatory damages award to $300,000.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part. The court first concluded that respondent had submitted insufficient evidence in support of his constructive-discharge claim, so it vacated that portion of the jury’s verdict. The court affirmed as to the retaliation finding, however, on the theory that retaliation claims brought under §2000e–3(a)—like claims of status-based discrimination under §2000e–2(a)—require only a showing that retaliation was a motivating factor for the adverse employment action, rather than its but-for cause. See id., at 454, n. 16 (citing Smith v. Xerox Corp., 602 F. 3d 320, 330 (CA5 2010)). It further held that the evidence supported a finding that Dr. Fitz was motivated, at least in part, to retaliate against respondent for his complaints against Levine. The Court of Appeals then remanded for a redetermination of damages in light of its decision to vacate the constructive-discharge verdict.
Four judges dissented from the court’s decision not to rehear the case en banc, arguing that the Circuit’s application of the motivating-factor standard to retaliation cases was “an erroneous interpretation of [Title VII] and controlling caselaw” and should be overruled en banc. 688 F. 3d 211, 213–214 (CA5 2012) (Smith, J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc).
Certiorari was granted. 568 U. S. ___ (2013).
This case requires the Court to define the proper standard of causation for Title VII retaliation claims. Causation in fact—i.e., proof that the defendant’s conduct did in fact cause the plaintiff’s injury—is a standard requirement of any tort claim, see Restatement of Torts §9 (1934) (definition of “legal cause”); §431, Comment a (same); §279, and Comment c (intentional infliction of physical harm); §280 (other intentional torts); §281(c) (negligence). This includes federal statutory claims of workplace discrimination. Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U. S. 604, 610 (1993) (In intentional-discrimination cases, “liability depends on whether the protected trait” “actually motivated the employer’s decision” and “had a determinative in- fluence on the outcome”); Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U. S. 702, 711 (1978) (explaining that the “simple test” for determining a discriminatory employment practice is “whether the evidence shows treatment of a person in a manner which but for that person’s sex would be different” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
In the usual course, this standard requires the plaintiff to show “that the harm would not have occurred” in the absence of—that is, but for—the defendant’s conduct. Restatement of Torts §431, Comment a (negligence); §432(1), and Comment a (same); see §279, and Comment c (intentional infliction of bodily harm); §280 (other intentional torts); Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical and Emotional Harm §27, and Comment b (2010) (noting the existence of an exception for cases where an injured party can prove the existence of multiple, independently sufficient factual causes, but observing that “cases invoking the concept are rare”). See also Restatement (Second) of Torts §432(1) (1963 and 1964) (negligence claims); §870, Comment l (intentional injury to another); cf. §435a, and Comment a (legal cause for intentional harm). It is thus textbook tort law that an action “is not regarded as a cause of an event if the particular event would have occurred without it.” W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton, & D. Owen, Prosser and Keeton on Law of Torts 265 (5th ed. 1984). This, then, is the background against which Congress legislated in enacting Title VII, and these are the default rules it is presumed to have incorporated, absent an indication to the contrary in the statute itself. See Meyer v. Holley, 537 U. S. 280, 285 (2003) ; Carey v. Piphus, 435 U. S. 247 –258 (1978).
Since the statute’s passage in 1964, it has prohibited employers from discriminating against their employees on any of seven specified criteria. Five of them—race, color, religion, sex, and national origin—are personal characteristics and are set forth in §2000e–2. (As noted at the outset, discrimination based on these five characteristics is called status-based discrimination in this opinion.) And then there is a point of great import for this case: The two remaining categories of wrongful employer conduct—the employee’s opposition to employment discrimination, and the employee’s submission of or support for a complaint that alleges employment discrimination—are not wrongs based on personal traits but rather types of protected employee conduct. These latter two categories are covered by a separate, subsequent section of Title VII, §2000e–3(a).
Under the status-based discrimination provision, it is an “unlawful employment practice” for an employer “to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” §2000e–2(a). In its 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse, the Court sought to explain the causation standard imposed by this language. It addressed in particular what it means for an action to be taken “because of” an individual’s race, religion, or nationality. Although no opinion in that case commanded a majority, six Justices did agree that a plaintiff could prevail on a claim of status-based discrimination if he or she could show that one of the prohibited traits was a “motivating” or “substantial” factor in the employer’s decision. 490 U. S., at 258 (plurality opinion); id., at 259 (White, J., concurring in judgment); id., at 276 (O’Connor, J., concurring in judgment). If the plaintiff made that showing, the burden of persuasion would shift to the employer, which could escape liability if it could prove that it would have taken the same employment action in the absence of all discriminatory animus. Id., at 258 (plurality opinion); id., at 259–260 (opinion of White, J.); id., at 276–277 (opinion of O’Connor, J.). In other words, the employer had to show that a discriminatory motive was not the but-for cause of the adverse employment action.
Two years later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (1991 Act), 105Stat. 1071. This statute (which had many other provisions) codified the burden-shifting and lessened-causation framework of Price Waterhouse in part but also rejected it to a substantial degree. The legislation first added a new subsection to the end of §2000e–2, i.e., Title VII’s principal ban on status-based discrimination. See §107(a), 105Stat. 1075. The new provision, §2000e–2(m), states:
“[A]n unlawful employment practice is established when the complaining party demonstrates that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice.”
This, of course, is a lessened causation standard.
The 1991 Act also abrogated a portion of Price Waterhouse’s framework by removing the employer’s ability to defeat liability once a plaintiff proved the existence of an impermissible motivating factor. See Gross, 557 U. S., at 178, n. 5. In its place, Congress enacted §2000e–5(g)(2), which provides:
“(B) On a claim in which an individual proves a violation under section 2000e–2(m) of this title and [the employer] demonstrates that [it] would have taken the same action in the absence of the impermissible motivating factor, the court—
“(i) may grant declaratory relief, injunctive relief . . . and [limited] attorney’s fees and costs . . . ; and
“(ii) shall not award damages or issue an order requiring any admission, reinstatement, hiring, promotion, or payment . . . .”
So, in short, the 1991 Act substituted a new burden-shifting framework for the one endorsed by Price Waterhouse. Under that new regime, a plaintiff could obtain declaratory relief, attorney’s fees and costs, and some forms of injunctive relief based solely on proof that race, color, religion, sex, or nationality was a motivating factor in the employment action; but the employer’s proof that it would still have taken the same employment action would save it from monetary damages and a reinstatement order. See Gross, 557 U. S., at 178, n. 5; see also id., at 175, n. 2, 177, n. 3.
After Price Waterhouse and the 1991 Act, considerable time elapsed before the Court returned again to the meaning of “because” and the problem of causation. This time it arose in the context of a different, yet similar statute, the ADEA, 29 U. S. C. §623(a). See Gross, supra. Much like the Title VII statute in Price Waterhouse, the relevant portion of the ADEA provided that “ ‘[i]t shall be unlawful for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.’ ” 557 U. S., at 176 (quoting §623(a)(1); emphasis and ellipsis in original).
Concentrating first and foremost on the meaning of the phrase “ ‘because of . . . age,’ ” the Court in Gross explained that the ordinary meaning of “ ‘because of’ ” is “ ‘by reason of’ ” or “ ‘on account of.’ ” Id., at 176 (citing 1 Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 194 (1966); 1 Oxford English Dictionary 746 (1933); The Random House Dictionary of the English Language 132 (1966); emphasis in original). Thus, the “requirement that an employer took adverse action ‘because of’ age [meant] that age was the ‘reason’ that the employer decided to act,” or, in other words, that “age was the ‘but-for’ cause of the employer’s adverse decision.” 557 U. S., at 176. See also Safeco Ins. Co. of America v. Burr, 551 U. S. 47 –64, and n. 14 (2007) (noting that “because of” means “based on” and that “ ‘based on’ indicates a but-for causal relationship”); Holmes v. Securities Investor Protection Corporation, 503 U. S. 258 –266 (1992) (equating “by reason of” with “ ‘but for’ cause”).
In the course of approving this construction, Gross declined to adopt the interpretation endorsed by the plurality and concurring opinions in Price Waterhouse. Noting that “the ADEA must be ‘read . . . the way Congress wrote it,’ ” 557 U. S., at 179 (quoting Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, 554 U. S. 84, 102 (2008) ), the Court concluded that “the textual differences between Title VII and the ADEA” “prevent[ed] us from applying Price Waterhouse . . . to federal age discrimination claims,” 557 U. S., at 175, n. 2. In particular, the Court stressed the congressional choice not to add a provision like §2000e–2(m) to the ADEA despite making numerous other changes to the latter statute in the 1991 Act. Id., at 174–175 (citing EEOC v. Arabian American Oil Co., 499 U. S. 244, 256 (1991) ); 557 U. S., at 177, n. 3 (citing 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 556 U. S. 247, 270 (2009) ).
Finally, the Court in Gross held that it would not be proper to read Price Waterhouse as announcing a rule that applied to both statutes, despite their similar wording and near-contemporaneous enactment. 557 U. S., at 178, n. 5. This different reading was necessary, the Court concluded, because Congress’ 1991 amendments to Title VII, including its “careful tailoring of the ‘motivating factor’ claim” and the substitution of §2000e–5(g)(2)(B) for Price Waterhouse’s full affirmative defense, indicated that the motivating-factor standard was not an organic part of Title VII and thus could not be read into the ADEA. See 557 U. S., at 178, n. 5.
In Gross, the Court was careful to restrict its analysis to the statute before it and withhold judgment on the proper resolution of a case, such as this, which arose under Title VII rather than the ADEA. But the particular confines of Gross do not deprive it of all persuasive force. Indeed, that opinion holds two insights for the present case. The first is textual and concerns the proper interpretation of the term “because” as it relates to the principles of causation underlying both §623(a) and §2000e–3(a). The second is the significance of Congress’ structural choices in both Title VII itself and the law’s 1991 amendments. These principles do not decide the present case but do inform its analysis, for the issues possess significant parallels.
As noted, Title VII’s antiretaliation provision, which is set forth in §2000e–3(a), appears in a different section from Title VII’s ban on status-based discrimination. The antiretaliation provision states, in relevant part:
“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.”
This enactment, like the statute at issue in Gross, makes it unlawful for an employer to take adverse employment action against an employee “because” of certain criteria. Cf. 29 U. S. C. §623(a)(1). Given the lack of any meaningful textual difference between the text in this statute and the one in Gross, the proper conclusion here, as in Gross, is that Title VII retaliation claims require proof that the desire to retaliate was the but-for cause of the challenged employment action. See Gross, supra, at 176.
The principal counterargument offered by respondent and the United States relies on their different understanding of the motivating-factor section, which—on its face—applies only to status discrimination, discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In substance, they contend that: (1) retaliation is defined by the statute to be an unlawful employment practice; (2) §2000e–2(m) allows unlawful employment practices to be proved based on a showing that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor for—and not necessarily the but-for factor in—the challenged employment action; and (3) the Court has, as a matter of course, held that “retaliation for complaining about race discrimination is ‘discrimination based on race.’ ” Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 14; see id., at 11–14; Brief for Respondent 16–19.
There are three main flaws in this reading of §2000e–2(m). The first is that it is inconsistent with the provision’s plain language. It must be acknowledged that because Title VII defines “unlawful employment practice” to include retaliation, the question presented by this case would be different if §2000e–2(m) extended its coverage to all unlawful employment practices. As actually written, however, the text of the motivating-factor provision, while it begins by referring to “unlawful employment practices,” then proceeds to address only five of the seven prohibited discriminatory actions—actions based on the employee’s status, i.e., race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. This indicates Congress’ intent to confine that provision’s coverage to only those types of employment practices. The text of §2000e–2(m) says nothing about retaliation claims. Given this clear language, it would be improper to conclude that what Congress omitted from the statute is nevertheless within its scope. Gardner v. Collins, 2 Pet. 58, 93 (1829) (“What the legislative intention was, can be derived only from the words they have used; and we cannot speculate beyond the reasonable import of these words”); see Sebelius v. Cloer, 569 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 8).
The second problem with this reading is its inconsistency with the design and structure of the statute as a whole. See Gross, 557 U. S., at 175, n. 2, 178, n. 5. Just as Congress’ choice of words is presumed to be deliberate, so too are its structural choices. See id., at 177, n. 3. When Congress wrote the motivating-factor provision in 1991, it chose to insert it as a subsection within §2000e–2, which contains Title VII’s ban on status-based discrimination, §§2000e–2(a) to (d), (l), and says nothing about retaliation. See 1991 Act, §107(a), 105Stat. 1075 (directing that “§2000e–2 . . . [be] further amended by adding at the end the following new subsection . . . (m)”). The title of the section of the 1991 Act that created §2000e–2(m)—“Clarifying prohibition against impermissible consideration of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in employment practices”—also indicates that Congress determined to address only claims of status-based discrimination, not retaliation. See §107(a), id., at 1075.
What is more, a different portion of the 1991 Act contains an express reference to all unlawful employment actions, thereby reinforcing the conclusion that Congress acted deliberately when it omitted retaliation claims from §2000e–2(m). See Arabian American Oil Co., 499 U. S., at 256 (congressional amendment of ADEA on a similar subject coupled with congressional failure to amend Title VII weighs against conclusion that the ADEA’s standard applies to Title VII); see also Gross, supra, at 177, n. 3. The relevant portion of the 1991 Act, §109(b), allowed certain overseas operations by U. S. employers to engage in “any practice prohibited by section 703 or 704,” i.e., §2000e–2 or §2000e–3, “if compliance with such section would cause such employer . . . to violate the law of the foreign country in which such workplace is located.” 105Stat. 1077.
If Congress had desired to make the motivating-factor standard applicable to all Title VII claims, it could have used language similar to that which it invoked in §109. See Arabian American Oil Co., supra, at 256. Or, it could have inserted the motivating-factor provision as part of a section that applies to all such claims, such as §2000e–5, which establishes the rules and remedies for all Title VII enforcement actions. See FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U. S. 120, 160 (2000) . But in writing §2000e–2(m), Congress did neither of those things, and “[w]e must give effect to Congress’ choice.” Gross, supra, at 177, n. 3.
The third problem with respondent’s and the Government’s reading of the motivating-factor standard is in its submission that this Court’s decisions interpreting federal antidiscrimination law have, as a general matter, treated bans on status-based discrimination as also prohibiting retaliation. In support of this proposition, both respondent and the United States rely upon decisions in which this Court has “read [a] broadly worded civil rights statute . . . as including an antiretaliation remedy.” CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, 553 U. S. 442 –453 (2008). In CBOCS, for example, the Court held that 42 U. S. C. §1981—which declares that all persons “shall have the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens”—prohibits not only racial discrimination but also retaliation against those who oppose it. 553 U. S., at 445. And in Gómez-Pérez v. Potter, 553 U. S. 474 (2008) , the Court likewise read a bar on retaliation into the broad wording of the federal-employee provisions of the ADEA. Id., at 479, 487 (“All personnel actions affecting [federal] employees . . . who are at least 40 years of age . . . shall be made free from any discrimination based on age,” 29 U. S. C. §633a(a)); see also Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Ed., 544 U. S. 167, 173, 179 (2005) ( 20 U. S. C. §1681(a) (Title IX)); Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park, Inc., 396 U. S. 229 , n. 3, 237 (1969) ( 42 U. S. C. §1982).
These decisions are not controlling here. It is true these cases do 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, even where the statute does not refer to retaliation in so many words. What those cases do not support, however, is 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.” For one thing, §2000e–2(m) is not itself a substantive bar on discrimination. Rather, it is a rule that establishes the causation standard for proving a violation defined elsewhere in Title VII. The cases cited by respondent and the Government do not address rules of this sort, and those precedents are of limited relevance here.
The approach respondent and the Government suggest is inappropriate in the context of a statute as precise, complex, and exhaustive as Title VII. As noted, the laws at issue in CBOCS, Jackson, and Gómez-Pérez were broad, general bars on discrimination. In interpreting them the Court concluded that by using capacious language Congress expressed the intent to bar retaliation in addition to status-based discrimination. See Gómez-Pérez, supra, at 486–488. In other words, when Congress’ treatment of the subject of prohibited discrimination was both broad and brief, its omission of any specific discussion of retaliation was unremarkable.
If Title VII had likewise been phrased in broad and general terms, respondent’s argument might have more force. But that is not how Title VII was written, which makes it incorrect to infer that Congress meant anything other than what the text does say on the subject of retaliation. Unlike Title IX, §1981, §1982, and the federal-sector provisions of the ADEA, Title VII is a detailed statutory scheme. This statute enumerates specific unlawful employment practices. See §§2000e–2(a)(1), (b), (c)(1), (d) (status-based discrimination by employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and training programs, respectively); §2000e–2(l) (status-based discrimination in employment-related testing); §2000e–3(a) (retaliation for opposing, or making or supporting a complaint about, unlawful employment actions); §2000e–3(b) (advertising a preference for applicants of a particular race, color, religion, sex, or national origin). It defines key terms, see §2000e, and exempts certain types of employers, see §2000e–1. And it creates an administrative agency with both rulemaking and enforcement authority. See §§2000e–5, 2000e–12.
This fundamental difference in statutory structure renders inapposite decisions which treated retaliation as an implicit corollary of status-based discrimination. Text may not be divorced from context. In light of Congress’ special care in drawing so precise a statutory scheme, it would be improper to indulge respondent’s suggestion that Congress meant to incorporate the default rules that apply only when Congress writes a broad and undifferentiated statute. See Gómez-Pérez, supra, at 486–488 (when construing the broadly worded federal-sector provision of the ADEA, Court refused to draw inferences from Congress’ amendments to the detailed private-sector provisions); Arabian American Oil Co., 499 U. S., at 256; cf. Jackson, supra, at 175 (distinguishing Title IX’s “broadly written general prohibition on discrimination” from Title VII’s “greater detail [with respect to] the conduct that constitutes discrimination”).
Further confirmation of the inapplicability of §2000e–2(m) to retaliation claims may be found in Congress’ approach to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 104Stat. 327. In the ADA Congress provided not just a general prohibition on discrimination “because of [an individual’s] disability,” but also seven paragraphs of detailed description of the practices that would constitute the prohibited discrimination, see §§102(a), (b)(1)–(7), id., at 331–332 (codified at 42 U. S. C. §12112). And, most pertinent for present purposes, it included an express antiretaliation provision, see §503(a), 104Stat. 370 (codified at 42 U. S. C. §12203). That law, which Congress passed only a year before enacting §2000e–2(m) and which speaks in clear and direct terms to the question of retaliation, rebuts the claim that Congress must have intended to use the phrase “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” as the textual equivalent of “retaliation.” To the contrary, the ADA shows that when Congress elected to address retaliation as part of a detailed statutory scheme, it did so in clear textual terms.
The Court confronted a similar structural dispute in Lehman v. Nakshian, 453 U. S. 156 (1981) . The question there was whether the federal-employment provisions of the ADEA, 29 U. S. C. §633a, provided a jury-trial right for claims against the Federal Government. Nakshian, 453 U. S., at 157. In concluding that it did not, the Court noted that the portion of the ADEA that prohibited age discrimination by private, state, and local employers, §626, expressly provided for a jury trial, whereas the federal-sector provisions said nothing about such a right. Id., at 162–163, 168. So, too, here. Congress has in explicit terms altered the standard of causation for one class of claims but not another, despite the obvious opportunity to do so in the 1991 Act.
The proper interpretation and implementation of §2000e–3(a) and its causation standard have central importance to the fair and responsible allocation of resources in the judicial and litigation systems. This is of particular significance because claims of retaliation are being made with ever-increasing frequency. The number of these claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has nearly doubled in the past 15 years—from just over 16,000 in 1997 to over 31,000 in 2012. EEOC, Charge Statistics FY 1997 Through FY 2012, http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/ charges.cfm (as visited June 20, 2013, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file). Indeed, the number of retaliation claims filed with the EEOC has now outstripped those for every type of status-based discrimination except race. See ibid.
In addition lessening the causation standard could also contribute to the filing of frivolous claims, which would siphon resources from efforts by employer, administrative agencies, and courts to combat workplace harassment. Consider in this regard the case of an employee who knows that he or she is about to be fired for poor perform- ance, given a lower pay grade, or even just transferred to a different assignment or location. To forestall that lawful action, he or she might be tempted to make an unfounded charge of racial, sexual, or religious discrimination; then, when the unrelated employment action comes, the employee could allege that it is retaliation. If respondent were to prevail in his argument here, that claim could be established by a lessened causation standard, all in order to prevent the undesired change in employment circumstances. Even if the employer could escape judgment after trial, the lessened causation standard would make it far more difficult to dismiss dubious claims at the summary judgment stage. Cf. Vance v. Ball State Univ., post, at 9–11. It would be inconsistent with the structure and operation of Title VII to so raise the costs, both financial and reputational, on an employer whose actions were not in fact the result of any discriminatory or retaliatory intent. See Brief for National School Boards Association as Amicus Curiae 11–22. Yet there would be a significant risk of that consequence if respondent’s position were adopted here.
The facts of this case also demonstrate the legal and factual distinctions between status-based and retaliation claims, as well as the importance of the correct standard of proof. Respondent raised both claims in the District Court. The alleged wrongdoer differed in each: In respondent’s status-based discrimination claim, it was his indirect supervisor, Dr. Levine. In his retaliation claim, it was the Chair of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fitz. The proof required for each claim differed, too. For the status-based claim, respondent was required to show instances of racial slurs, disparate treatment, and other indications of nationality-driven animus by Dr. Levine. Respondent’s retaliation claim, by contrast, relied on the theory that Dr. Fitz was committed to exonerating Dr. Levine and wished to punish respondent for besmirching her reputation. Separately instructed on each type of claim, the jury returned a separate verdict for each, albeit with a single damages award. And the Court of Appeals treated each claim separately, too, finding insufficient evidence on the claim of status-based discrimination.
If it were proper to apply the motivating-factor standard to respondent’s retaliation claim, the University might well be subject to liability on account of Dr. Fitz’s alleged desire to exonerate Dr. Levine, even if it could also be shown that the terms of the affiliation agreement pre- cluded the Hospital’s hiring of respondent and that the University would have sought to prevent respondent’s hiring in order to honor that agreement in any event. That result would be inconsistent with the both the text and purpose of Title VII.
In sum, Title VII defines the term “unlawful employment practice” as discrimination on the basis of any of seven prohibited criteria: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, opposition to employment discrimination, and submitting or supporting a complaint about employment discrimination. The text of §2000e–2(m) mentions just the first five of these factors, the status-based ones; and it omits the final two, which deal with retaliation. When it added §2000e–2(m) to Title VII in 1991, Congress inserted it within the section of the statute that deals only with those same five criteria, not the section that deals with retaliation claims or one of the sections that apply to all claims of unlawful employment practices. And while the Court has inferred a congressional intent to prohibit retaliation when confronted with broadly worded antidiscrimination statutes, Title VII’s detailed structure makes that inference inappropriate here. Based on these textual and structural indications, the Court now concludes as follows: 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). This requires proof that the unlawful retaliation would not have occurred in the absence of the alleged wrongful action or actions of the employer.
Respondent and the Government also argue that applying the motivating-factor provision’s lessened causation standard to retaliation claims would be consistent with longstanding agency views, contained in a guidance manual published by the EEOC. It urges that those views are entitled to deference under this Court’s decision in Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U. S. 134 (1944) . See National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U. S. 101 , n. 6 (2002). The weight of deference afforded to agency interpretations under Skidmore depends upon “the thoroughness evident in its consideration, the validity of its reasoning, its consistency with earlier and later pronouncements, and all those factors which give it power to persuade.” 323 U. S., at 140; see Vance, post, at 9, n. 4.
According to the manual in question, the causation element of a retaliation claim is satisfied if “there is credible direct evidence that retaliation was a motive for the challenged action,” regardless of whether there is also “[e]vidence as to [a] legitimate motive.” 2 EEOC Compliance Manual §8–II(E)(1), pp. 614:0007–614:0008 (Mar. 2003). After noting a division of authority as to whether motivating-factor or but-for causation should apply to retaliation claims, the manual offers two rationales in support of adopting the former standard. The first is that “[c]ourts have long held that the evidentiary framework for proving [status-based] discrimination . . . also applies to claims of discrimination based on retaliation.” Id., at 614:0008, n. 45. Second, the manual states that “an interpretation . . . that permits proven retaliation to go unpunished undermines the purpose of the anti-retaliation provisions of maintaining unfettered access to the statutory remedial mechanism.” Ibid.
These explanations lack the persuasive force that is a necessary precondition to deference under Skidmore. See 323 U. S., at 140; Vance, post, at 9, n. 4. As to the first rationale, while the settled judicial construction of a particular statute is of course relevant in ascertaining statutory meaning, see Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U. S. 575 –581 (1978), the manual’s discussion fails to address the particular interplay among the status-based discrimination provision (§2000e–2(a)), the antiretaliation provision (§2000e–3(a)), and the motivating-factor provision (§2000e–2(m)). Other federal antidiscrimination statutes do not have the structure of statutory subsections that control the outcome at issue here. The manual’s failure to address the specific provisions of this statutory scheme, coupled with the generic nature of its discussion of the causation standards for status-based discrimination and retaliation claims, call the manual’s conclusions into serious question. See Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, 554 U. S. 135 –150 (2008).
The manual’s second argument is unpersuasive, too; for its reasoning is circular. It asserts the lessened causation standard is necessary in order to prevent “proven retaliation” from “go[ing] unpunished.” 2 EEOC Compliance Manual §8–II(E)(1), at 614:0008, n. 45. Yet this assumes the answer to the central question at issue here, which is what causal relationship must be shown in order to prove retaliation.
Respondent’s final argument, in which he is not joined by the United States, is that even if §2000e–2(m) does not control the outcome in this case, the standard applied by Price Waterhouse should control instead. That assertion is incorrect. First, this position is foreclosed by the 1991 Act’s amendments to Title VII. As noted above, Price Waterhouse adopted a complex burden-shifting framework. Congress displaced this framework by enacting §2000e–2(m) (which adopts the motivating-factor standard for status-based discrimination claims) and §2000e–5(g)(2)(B) (which replaces employers’ total defense with a remedial limitation). See Gross, 557 U. S., at 175, n. 2, 177, n. 3, 178, n. 5. Given the careful balance of lessened causation and reduced remedies Congress struck in the 1991 Act, there is no reason to think that the different balance articulated by Price Waterhouse somehow survived that legislation’s passage. Second, even if this argument were still available, it would be inconsistent with the Gross Court’s reading (and the plain textual meaning) of the word “because” as it appears in both §623(a) and §2000e–3(a). See Gross, supra, at 176–177. For these reasons, the rule of Price Waterhouse is not controlling here.
The text, structure, and history of Title VII demonstrate that a plaintiff making a retaliation claim under §2000e–3(a) must establish that his or her protected activity was a but-for cause of the alleged adverse action by the employer. The University claims that a fair application of this standard, which is more demanding than the motivating-factor standard adopted by the Court of Appeals, entitles it to judgment as a matter of law. It asks the Court to so hold. That question, however, is better suited to resolution by courts closer to the facts of this case. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.