Reading Too Much into what the Court Doesn't Write: How Some Federal Courts have Limited Title VII's Participation Clause's Protections after Clark County School District v. Breeden
58 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2014
Date Written: 2008
In 2001, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Clark County School District v. Breeden, in which it refused to determine what a plaintiff must prove to demonstrate that she engaged in "protected activity" under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision’s opposition clause. Although the Court declined to answer this question, courts have interpreted Breeden as requiring an opposition-clause plaintiff to prove a good-faith, objectively reasonable belief of an unlawful employment practice. Although Breeden involved Title VII’s opposition clause, some courts are now applying Breeden to cases involving Title VII’s participation clause. This is baffling for two reasons. First, Breeden involved the opposition clause, not the participation clause, and prior to Breeden, federal courts had concluded that the participation clause provided more protection than the opposition clause provided. Second, Breeden never definitely established the standard for opposition-clause cases. Despite this, some courts are now applying Breeden’s objectively reasonable standard to participation-clause cases. This Article argues that courts should not apply Breeden in participation-clause cases and should protect participation-clause plaintiffs even if the plaintiffs’ beliefs about unlawful employment practices are unreasonable. Courts should do this because of (1) the participation clause’s plain language; (2) the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s opposition on this issue; (3) the canon of statutory construction that requires remedial statutes such as Title VII to be interpreted broadly; and (4) the fact that Breeden neither addressed the participation clause nor provided a definitive standard for opposition-clause cases.
Keywords: Title VII, participation clause, anti-retaliation, protected activity, civil rights, opposition clause, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC
JEL Classification: K10, K40, J70, J71
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation