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Copyright (c) 2010 University of Memphis Law Review
University of Memphis Law Review

Article: A "Person Aggrieved": Who May Sue Under Title VII?

Summer, 2010

The University of Memphis Law Review

40 U. Mem. L. Rev. 797


Ernest F. Lidge III*


I. Introduction

Who may sue under Title VII and other employment discrimination laws? The statutes contain inherent tensions. Section 703(a) of Title VII, the substantive provision, is rather narrow, providing that it is "an unlawful employment practice for an em ployer . . . to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 1 The language of the provision limits the scope of a violation to situations in which the employer takes action against an employee (or applicant for employment) because of that employee's membership in a protected group. Similarly, section 704(a) of Title VII, the antiretaliation provision, takes a narrow approach, banning an employer from taking retaliatory action against an employee for engaging in protected conduct and limiting the definition of a violation to situations where "he has opposed any [unlawful employment practice or] . . . he has made a charge [of discrimination]." 2 However, section 706(b), the enforcement provision, is broader, providing that "whenever a charge is filed by or on behalf of a person claiming to be aggrieved, . . . alleging that an employer . . . has engaged in an unlawful employment practice, the Commission . . . shall make an investigation." 3

The contrasting statutory language presents an interpretive problem. Should courts limit Title VII relief to employees who have been discriminated against because of their protected activity or membership in a protected group? Or should courts interpret the "person ...
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