427 U.S. 445 (1976), 75-251, Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer

Docket Nº:No. 75-251
Citation:427 U.S. 445, 96 S.Ct. 2666, 49 L.Ed.2d 614
Party Name:Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer
Case Date:June 28, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 445

427 U.S. 445 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 2666, 49 L.Ed.2d 614

Fitzpatrick

v.

Bitzer

No. 75-251

United States Supreme Court

June 28, 1976

Argued April 221, 1976

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Present and retired male employees of the State of Connecticut (petitioners in No. [96 S.Ct. 2667] 75-251) brought this class action alleging, inter alia, that certain provisions of the State's statutory retirement benefit plan discriminated against them because of their sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, as amended, extends coverage to the States as employers. The District Court ruled in their favor and entered prospective injunctive relief against respondent state officials. But the court denied petitioners' request for an award of retroactive retirement benefits as compensation for losses caused by the State's discrimination, as well as "a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs," as provided in Title VII, holding that both would constitute recovery of money damages from the State's treasury, and were thus precluded by the Eleventh Amendment and by this Court's decision in Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, where the District Court's award for welfare benefits wrongfully withheld was held to violate that Amendment, there being no authorization in the Social Security Act for a citizen to sue a State. The Court of Appeals reversed in the matter of attorneys' fees, the award of which was deemed to have only an "ancillary effect" on the state treasury of the sort permitted by Edelman, but otherwise affirmed.

Held:

1. The Eleventh Amendment does not bar a backpay award to petitioners in No. 75-251, since that Amendment and the principle of state sovereignty that it embodies are limited by the enforcement provisions of § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants Congress authority to enforce "by appropriate

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legislation" the substantive provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, which themselves embody significant limitations on state authority. Congress, in determining what legislation is appropriate for enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment, may, as it has done in Title VII, provide for suits against States that are constitutionally impermissible in other contexts. The "threshold fact of congressional authorization" for a citizen to sue his state employer, which was absent in Edelman, supra, is thus present here. Pp. 451-456.

2. Congress' exercise of power in allowing reasonable attorneys' fees is similarly not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Pp. 456-457.

519 F.2d 559, affirmed in part, reversed in part.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C J., and STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 457, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 458, filed opinions concurring in the judgment.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In the 1972 Amendments to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress, acting under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, authorized federal courts to award money damages in favor of a private individual against a state government found to have subjected that person to employment discrimination on the basis of

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"race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."1 The principal question presented by these cases is whether, as against the shield of sovereign immunity afforded the State by the [96 S.Ct. 2668] Eleventh Amendment, Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974), Congress has the power to authorize federal courts to enter such an award against the State as a means of enforcing the substantive guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the effect of our decision in Edelman was to foreclose Congress' power. We granted certiorari to resolve this important constitutional question. 423 U.S. 1031 (1975). We reverse.

I

Petitioners in No. 75-251 sued in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut on behalf of all present and retired male employees of the State of Connecticut. Their amended complaint asserted, inter alia, that certain provisions in the State's statutory retirement benefit plan discriminated against them because of their sex, and therefore contravened Title VII of the 1964 Act, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1970 ed. and Supp. IV). Title VII, which originally did not include state and local governments,

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had in the interim been amended to bring the States within its purview.2

The District Court held that the Connecticut State Employees Retirement Act violated Title VII's prohibition against sex-based employment discrimination. 390 F.Supp. 278, 285-288 (1974).3 It entered prospective injunctive relief in petitioners' favor against respondent state officials.4 Petitioners also sought an award of retroactive retirement benefits as compensation for losses

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caused by the State's discrimination,5 as well as "a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs."6 But the District Court held that both would constitute recovery of money damages from the State's treasury, and were therefore precluded by the Eleventh Amendment and by this Court's decision in Edelman v. Jordan, supra.

[96 S.Ct. 2669] On petitioners' appeal,7 the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. It agreed with the District Court that the action, "insofar as it seeks damages, is in essence against the state and as such is subject to the Eleventh Amendment." 519 F.2d 559, 565 (1975). The Court of Appeals also found that, under the 1972 Amendments to Title VII, "Congress intended to authorize a private suit for backpay by state employees against the state." Id. at 568. Notwithstanding this statutory authority, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court and held that, under Edelman, a "private federal action for retroactive damages" is not a "constitutionally

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permissible method of enforcing Fourteenth Amendment rights." 519 F.2d at 569. It reversed the District Court and remanded as to attorneys' fees, however, reasoning that such an award would have only an "ancillary effect" on the state treasury of the kind permitted under Edelman, supra at 667-668. 519 F.2d at 571. The petition filed here by the state employees in No. 75-251 contends that Congress does possess the constitutional power under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to authorize their Title VII damages action against the State. The state officials' cross-petition, No. 75-283, argues that, under Edelman, the Eleventh Amendment bars any award of attorneys' fees here because it would be paid out of the state treasury.

II

In Edelman, this Court held that monetary relief awarded by the District Court to welfare plaintiffs, by reason of wrongful denial of benefits which had occurred previous to the entry of the District Court's determination of their wrongfulness, violated the Eleventh Amendment. Such an award was found to be indistinguishable from a monetary award against the State itself which had been prohibited in Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459, 464 (1945). It was therefore controlled by that case, rather than by Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), which permitted suits against state officials to obtain prospective relief against violations of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Edelman went on to hold that the plaintiffs in that case could not avail themselves of the doctrine of waiver expounded in cases such as Parden v. Terminal R. Co., 377 U.S. 184 (1964), and Employees v. Missouri Public Health Dept., 411 U.S. 279 (1973), because the necessary predicate for that doctrine was congressional

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intent to abrogate the immunity conferred by the Eleventh Amendment. We concluded that none of the statutes relied upon by plaintiffs in Edelman contained any authorization by Congress to join a State as defendant. The Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, had been held in Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 187-191 (1961), to exclude cities and other municipal corporations from its ambit; that being the case, it could not have been intended to include States as parties defendant. The provisions of the Social Security Act relied upon by plaintiffs were held, by their terms, not to "authorize suit against anyone," 415 U.S. at 674, and they, too, were incapable of supplying the predicate for a claim of waiver on the part of the State.

All parties in the instant litigation agree with the Court of Appeals that the suit for retroactive benefits by the petitioners is, in fact, indistinguishable from that sought to be maintained in Edelman, since what is sought here is a damages award payable to a private party from the state treasury.8

Our analysis begins where Edelman ended, for, in this Title VII case, the "threshold fact of congressional authorization," id. at 672, to sue the State as employer is clearly present. This is, of course, the prerequisite found present in Parden and wanting in Employees. We are aware of the factual differences between the type of state activity involved in Parden and that involved in the present case, but we do not think that difference is material for our purposes. The congressional authorization involved in Parden was based on the power of Congress under the Commerce Clause; here, however, the

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Eleventh Amendment defense is asserted in the context of legislation passed pursuant to Congress' authority under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.9

As ratified by the States after the Civil War, that Amendment quite clearly contemplates limitations on their authority. In relevant part, it provides:

Section 1. . . . No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property,...

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