425 U.S. 820 (1976), 74-768, Brown v. GSA,

Docket Nº:No. 74-768
Citation:425 U.S. 820, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402
Party Name:Brown v. GSA,
Case Date:June 01, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 820

425 U.S. 820 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402




No. 74-768

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1976

Argued March 1-2, 1976




Section 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as added by § 11 of the Equal Employment [96 S.Ct. 1962] Opportunity Act of 1972, proscribes federal employment discrimination and establishes an administrative and judicial enforcement system. The statute provides that personnel actions affecting federal employees or job applicants "shall be made free from any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin," § 717(a); delegates enforcement authority to the Civil Service Commission (CSC), § 717(b); and permits an aggrieved employee to file a civil action in a federal district court for review of his claim of employment discrimination. After first seeking relief from the agency allegedly guilty of discrimination, he may seek further review from the CSC, or, alternatively, within 30 days of receipt of notice of the agency's final decision, file suit in federal district court without appealing to the CSC. If he appeals to the CSC, he may file suit within 30 days of the CSC's final decision. In any event, he may file a civil action if, after 180 days from the filing of the charge or appeal, the agency or the CSC has not taken final action. § 717(c). Petitioner, a Negro, who claimed that respondent agency (GSA) had racially discriminated against him by not promoting him to a higher grade, filed a complaint with the GSA. After an adverse decision, he was accorded a hearing by a CSC complaints examiner, who, in February, 1973, found that there was no discrimination, and, in March, 1973, the GSA rendered its final decision upholding the examiner. Petitioner was advised of that decision and of the further procedure available to him. Forty-two days later, he brought suit in the District Court, alleging jurisdiction under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "with particular reference to" § 717. He also alleged jurisdiction under the general federal question statute, the Declaratory Judgment Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The District Court granted respondents' motion to dismiss made on the ground that petitioner had not filed the complaint within the 30-day period specified by § 717(c), and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 717 provides the exclusive

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judicial remedy for claims of discrimination in federal employment, and, since petitioner failed to file a timely complaint under § 717(c), the District Court properly dismissed his complaint. Pp. 824-835.

(a) The legislative history indicates that Congress, which was persuaded that federal employees who were treated discriminatorily had no effective judicial remedy, intended by the 1972 legislation to create an exclusive, preemptive administrative scheme for the redress of federal employment discrimination. Pp. 824-829.

(b) The balance, completeness, and structural integrity of § 717 are inconsistent with petitioner's contention that the judicial remedy of § 717(c) was designed merely to supplement other putative judicial remedies. Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, 421 U.S. 454, distinguished. Pp. 832-8:34.

(c) A precisely drawn, detailed statute preempts more general remedies. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475. Pp. 834-835.

507 F.2d 1300, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 835. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal question presented by this case is whether § 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides the exclusive judicial remedy for claims of discrimination in federal employment.

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The petitioner, Clarence Brown, is a Negro who has been employed by the General Services Administration since 1957.1 He is currently classified in grade GS-7, and has [96 S.Ct. 1963] not been promoted since 1966. In December, 1970, Brown was referred, along with two white colleagues, for promotion to grade GS-9 by his supervisors. All three were rated "highly qualified," and the promotion was given to one of the white candidates for the position. Brown filed a complaint with the GSA Equal Employment Opportunity Office alleging that racial discrimination had biased the selection process. That complaint was withdrawn when Brown was told that other GS-9 positions would soon be available.

Another GS-9 position did become vacant in June, 1971, for which the petitioner along with two others was recommended as "highly qualified." Again, a white applicant was chosen. Brown filed a second administrative complaint with the GSA Equal Employment Opportunity Office. After preparation and review of an investigative report, the GSA Regional Administrator notified the petitioner that there was no evidence that race had played a part in the promotion. Brown requested a hearing, and one was held before a complaints examiner of the Civil Service Commission. In February, 1973, the examiner issued his findings and recommended decision. He found no evidence of racial discrimination; rather, he determined that Brown had not been advanced because he had not been "fully cooperative."

The GSA rendered its final decision in March, 1973. The agency's Director of Civil Rights informed Brown

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by letter of his conclusion that considerations of race had not entered the promotional process. The Director's letter told Brown that, if he chose, he might carry the administrative process further by lodging an appeal with the Board of Appeals and Review of the Civil Service Commission, and that, alternatively, he could file suit within 30 days in federal district court.2

Forty-two days later, Brown filed suit in a Federal District Court. The complaint alleged jurisdiction under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 86 Stat. 103, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1970 ed. and Supp. IV), "with particular reference to" § 717; under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (general federal question jurisdiction); under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28

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U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202; and under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981.3

[96 S.Ct. 1964] The respondents moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that Brown had not filed the complaint within 30 days of final agency action as required by § 717(c) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c) (1970 ed., Supp. IV). The District Court granted the motion.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of dismissal. 507 F.2d 1300 (1974). It held, first, that the § 717 remedy for federal employment discrimination was retroactively available to any employee, such as the petitioner, whose administrative complaint was pending at the time § 717 became effective on March 24, 1972.4 The appellate court held, second, that § 717 provides the exclusive judicial remedy for federal employment discrimination, and that the complaint had not been timely filed under that statute. Finally, the court ruled that, if § 717 did not preempt other remedies, then the petitioner's complaint was still properly dismissed because of his failure to exhaust available administrative remedies. We granted certiorari, 421 U.S. 987 (1975), to consider the important issues of federal law presented by this case.

The primary question in this litigation is not difficult to state: is § 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as added by § 11 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16 (1970 ed., Supp. IV),

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the exclusive individual remedy available to a federal employee complaining of job-related racial discrimination? But the question is easier to state than it is to resolve. Congress simply failed explicitly to describe § 717's position in the constellation of antidiscrimination law. We must, therefore, infer congressional intent in less obvious ways. As Mr. Chief Justice Marshall once wrote for the Court: "Where the mind labours to discover the design of the legislature, it seizes everything from which aid can be derived. . . ." United States v. Fisher, 2 Cranch 358, 386 (1805).

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2, 2000e-3 (1970 ed. and Supp. IV). Until it was amended in 1972 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, however, Title VII did not protect federal employees. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). Although federal employment discrimination clearly violated both the Constitution, Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954), and statutory law, 5 U.S.C. § 7151, before passage of the 1972 Act, the effective availability of either administrative or judicial relief was far from sure. Charges of racial discrimination were handled parochially within each federal agency. A hearing examiner might come from outside the agency, but he had no authority to conduct an independent examination, and his conclusions and findings were in the nature. of recommendations that the agency was free to accept or reject.5 Although review lay in the Board of Appeals and Review of the Civil Service Commission, Congress found "skepticism" among federal employees

regarding the Commission's record in obtaining just resolutions of complaints and adequate remedies. This has, in turn, discouraged persons from filing complaints with the Commission

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