Phosphorylation of estrogen receptor-α (ERα) is critical for its transcription factor activity and may determine its predictive and therapeutic value as a biomarker for ERα-positive breast cancers. Recent attention has turned to the poorly understood ERα hinge domain, as phosphorylation at serine 305 (Ser305) associates with poor clinical outcome and endocrine resistance. We show that phosphorylation of a neighboring hinge domain site, Ser294, analyzed by multiple reaction monitoring mass spectrometry of ERα immunoprecipitates from human breast cancer cells is robustly phosphorylated exclusively by ligand (estradiol and tamoxifen) activation of ERα and not by growth factor stimulation (EGF, insulin, heregulin-β). In a reciprocal fashion, Ser305 phosphorylation is induced by growth factors but not ligand activation of ERα. Phosphorylation at Ser294 and Ser305 is suppressed upon co-stimulation by EGF and ligand, respectively, unlike the N-terminal (AF-1) domain Ser118 and Ser167 sites of ERα where phosphorylation is enhanced by ligand and growth factor co-stimulation. Inhibition of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK) by roscovitine or SNS-032 suppresses ligand-activated Ser294 phosphorylation without affecting Ser118 or Ser104/Ser106 phosphorylation. Likewise, cell-free studies using recombinant ERα and specific cyclin-CDK complexes suggest that Ser294 phosphorylation is primarily induced by the transcription-regulating and cell-cycle-independent kinase CDK7. Thus, CDK-dependent phosphorylation at Ser294 differentiates ligand-dependent from ligand-independent activation of Ser305 phosphorylation, showing that hinge domain phosphorylation patterns uniquely inform on the various ERα activation mechanisms thought to underlie the biologic and clinical diversity of hormone-dependent breast cancers.