425 U.S. 840 (1976), 74-1599, Chandler v. Roudebush

Docket Nº:No. 74-1599
Citation:425 U.S. 840, 96 S.Ct. 1949, 48 L.Ed.2d 416
Party Name:Chandler v. Roudebush
Case Date:June 01, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 840

425 U.S. 840 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 1949, 48 L.Ed.2d 416

Chandler

v.

Roudebush

No. 74-1599

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1976

Argued March 2, 1976

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 717(c) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as added by § 11 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, provides that, within a specified period after notice of final administrative action on a federal employee's discrimination complaint by the employing agency, or by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), upon an appeal from the agency's order, or after a specified period of delay by the agency or the CSC, the employee "may file a civil action" as provided in the statute, against the agency head. Petitioner, a Negro, claiming that her failure to receive a promotion by the Veterans' Administration was sexually and racially discriminatory, after exhausting her administrative remedies, brought suit under § 717(c). She was not allowed to proceed with discovery, the District Court having determined that "the absence of discrimination is firmly established by the clear weight of the administrative record." The court thereupon granted summary judgment in favor of respondents. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The plain meaning of the statute, reinforced by the legislative history of the 1972 amendments, compels the conclusion that federal employees have the same right to a trial de novo as is enjoyed by private sector or state government employees under the amended Civil Rights Act of 1964. Pp. 843-864.

515 F.2d 251, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1972, Congress extended the protection of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1970 ed. and Supp. IV), to employees of the Federal Government. A principal goal of the amending legislation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, Pub.L. 92-261, 86 Stat. 103, was to eradicate "`entrenched discrimination in the Federal service,'" Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535, 547, by strengthening internal safeguards and by according

[a]ggrieved [federal] employees or applicants . . . the full rights available in the courts as are granted to individuals in the private sector under title VII.1

The issue presented by this case is whether the 1972 Act gives federal employees the same right to a trial de novo of employment discrimination claims as "private sector" employees enjoy under Title VII.

I

The petitioner, Mrs. Jewell Chandler, is a Negro. In 1972, she was employed as a claims examiner by the Veterans' Administration. In August of that year, she applied for a promotion to the position of supervisory claims examiner. Following a selection procedure, she was designated as one of three finalists for the position.

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The promotion was awarded to a Filipino-American male. The petitioner subsequently filed a complaint with the Veterans' Administration alleging that she had been denied the promotion because of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex and race. After an administrative hearing on the claim, the presiding complaints examiner submitted proposed findings to the effect that the petitioner had been discriminated against on the basis of sex but not race, and recommended that she be given a retroactive [96 S.Ct. 1951] promotion to the position for which she had applied. The agency rejected the proposed finding of sex discrimination as not "substantiated by the evidence," and accordingly granted no relief.2 The petitioner filed a timely appeal to the Civil Service Commission Board of Appeals and Review, which affirmed the agency's decision.

Within 30 days after receiving notice of the Commission's decision, the petitioner brought the present suit in a Federal District Court under § 717(c) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as added by § 11 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 86 Stat. 111, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-16(c) (1970 ed., Supp. IV). After moving unsuccessfully for summary judgment, she initiated discovery proceedings by filing notice of two depositions and a request for the production of documents. The respondents moved for an order prohibiting discovery on the ground that the judicial action authorized by § 717(c) is limited to a review of the administrative record. The petitioner opposed the motion, asserting that she had a right under § 717(c) to a plenary judicial trial de novo. The District Court adopted the holding of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in Hackley v. Johnson, 360 F.Supp. 1247, rev'd

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sub nom. Hackley v. Roudebush, 171 U.S.App.D.C. 376, 520 F.2d 108, that a "trial de novo is not required [under § 717(c)] in all cases," and that review of the administrative record is sufficient if "an absence of discrimination is affirmatively established by the clear weight of the evidence in the record. . . ." 360 F.Supp. at 1252.3 Applying this standard of review, the District Court determined that "the absence of discrimination is firmly established by the clear weight of the administrative record," and granted summary judgment in favor of the respondents. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, agreeing with the District Court's ruling that § 717(c) contemplates not a trial de novo, but the "intermediate scope of inquiry expounded in Hackley v. Johnson. . . ." Chandler v. Johnson, 515 F.2d 251, 255 (CA9). We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the Circuits concerning the nature of the judicial proceeding provided by § 717(c).4 423 U.S. 821.

II

We begin with the language of the statute. Section 717(c), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c) (1970 ed., Supp. IV),

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states that, within 30 days after notice of final adverse administrative action on a federal employee's discrimination complaint by either the employing agency or the Civil Service Commission (in the event a permissive appeal is taken), or after 180 days of delay by the agency or the Commission, the employee "may file a civil action as provided in section 706, in which civil action the head of the department agency, or unit, as appropriate, shall be the defendant." Section 717(d), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(d) (1970 ed., Supp. IV), goes on to specify that "[t]he provisions of section 706(f) through (k), as applicable, shall govern civil actions brought hereunder."

Section 706(f) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f) (1970 ed., Supp. IV), [96 S.Ct. 1952] authorizes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to bring "civil actions" on behalf of private sector employees in federal district court.5 Alternatively, § 706(f)(1) authorizes an individual employee to sue on his own behalf if a specified period of delay has elapsed or if the EEOC has declined to represent him on the basis of its initial determination that "there is not reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true. . . ." § 706(b), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b) (1970 ed., Supp. IV). Sections 706(f) through (k), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-5(f) through (k) (1970 ed. and Supp. IV), provide specific rules and guidelines for private sector "civil actions."

It is well established that § 706 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 accords private sector employees the right to de novo consideration of their Title VII claims. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36; McDonnell

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Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 798-799; Norman v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., 414 F.2d 73, 75 n. 2 (CA8). The "employee's statutory right to a trial de novo under Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] . . . ," Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., supra at 38, embodies a congressional decision to "vest federal courts with plenary powers to enforce the [substantive] requirements [of Title VII]. . . ." Id. at 47.

The 1972 amendments to the 1964 Act added language to § 706 which reflects the de novo character of the private sector "civil action" even more clearly than did the 1964 version.6 Section 706(f)(4), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(4) (1970 ed., Supp. IV), for instance, requires the chief judge of the district in which a "civil action" is pending to "immediately . . . designate a judge in such district to hear and determine the case." The judge so designated must "assign the case for hearing at the earliest practicable date. . . ." § 706(f)(5). If the case has not been "scheduled . . . for trial within one hundred and twenty days after issue has been joined," then the designated judge may appoint a special master to hear it. Ibid. And, as under the 1964 version, if the district court "finds" that the respondent has intentionally committed an unlawful employment practice, then the court may order appropriate relief. § 706(g), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g) (1970 ed., Supp. IV). The terminology employed by Congress -- "assign the case for hearing," "scheduled . . . for trial," "finds" -- indicates clearly that the "civil action" to which private sector employees are entitled under the amended version of Title VII is to be a trial de novo.

Since federal sector employees are entitled by § 717(c) to "file a civil action as provided in section 706 [42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 (1970 ed., Supp. IV)]," and since

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the civil action provided in § 706 is a trial de novo, it would seem to follow syllogistically that federal employees are entitled to a trial de novo of their employment discrimination claims. The Court of Appeals, however, held that a contrary result was indicated by the words "as applicable" in § 717(d) and by the legislative history of § 717, and in support of that position the respondents further argue that routine de novo trials of federal employees' claims would clash with the 1972 Act's delegation of enforcement responsibilities to the Civil Service Commission, and would...

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