499 U.S. 244 (1991), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Arabian American Oil Company

Citation:499 U.S. 244, 111 S.Ct. 1227, 113 L.Ed.2d 274, 59 U.S.L.W. 4225
Party Name:Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Arabian American Oil Company
Case Date:March 26, 1991
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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499 U.S. 244 (1991)

111 S.Ct. 1227, 113 L.Ed.2d 274, 59 U.S.L.W. 4225

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

v.

Arabian American Oil Company

United States Supreme Court

March 26, 1991

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner Boureslan, a naturalized United States citizen born in Lebanon and working in Saudi Arabia, was discharged by his employer, respondent Arabian American Oil Company, a Delaware corporation. After filing a charge with petitioner Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), he instituted suit in the District Court, seeking relief under, inter alia, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on the ground that he had been discriminated against because of his race, religion, and national origin. In dismissing this claim, the court ruled that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Title VII's protections do not extend to United States citizens employed abroad by American employers. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Title VII does not apply extraterritorially to regulate the employment practices of United States firms that employ American citizens abroad. Petitioners' evidence, while not totally lacking in probative value, falls short of demonstrating the clearly expressed affirmative congressional intent that is required to overcome the well-established presumption against statutory extraterritoriality. Pp. 249-259.

(a) Petitioners argue unpersuasively that Title VII's "broad jurisdictional language" -- which extends the Act's protections to commerce "between a State and any place outside thereof" -- evinces a clear intent to legislate extraterritorially. The language relied on is ambiguous, does not speak directly to the question presented here, and constitutes boilerplate language found in any number of congressional Acts, none of which have been held to apply overseas. Petitioners' argument also finds no support in this Court's decisions, which have repeatedly held that even statutes containing broad language in their definitions of "commerce" that expressly refer to "foreign commerce" do not apply abroad. See, e.g., McCulloch v. Sociedad Nacional de Marineros de Honduras, 372 U.S. 10, 15, 19. Steele v. Bulova Watch Co., 344 U.S. 280, 286, distinguished. Pp. 249-253.

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(b) Petitioners also argue unpersuasively that Title VII's "alien exemption" clause -- which renders the statute inapplicable "to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State" -- clearly manifests the necessary congressional intent to cover employers of United States citizens working abroad. If petitioners were correct, there would be no statutory basis for distinguishing between American employers and foreign employers. Absent clearer evidence of congressional intent, this Court is unwilling to ascribe to Congress a policy which would raise difficult international law issues by imposing this country's employment discrimination regime upon foreign corporations operating in foreign commerce. This conclusion is fortified by other factors suggesting a purely domestic focus, including Title VII's failure even to mention foreign nations or proceedings, despite a number of provisions indicating a concern that the sovereignty and laws of States not be unduly interfered with, and the Act's failure to provide any mechanisms for its overseas enforcement. It is also reasonable to conclude that, had Congress intended Title VII to apply overseas, it would have addressed the subject of conflicts with foreign laws and procedures, as it did in amending the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) to apply abroad. Pp. 253-256.

(c) Petitioners' contention that this Court should defer to the EEOC's position that Title VII applies abroad is rejected. The EEOC's interpretation does not fare well under the deference standards set forth in General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 140-146, since the interpretation has been neither contemporaneous with Title VII's enactment nor consistent with an earlier contrary position enunciated by the EEOC closer to the date the statute came into law, since the EEOC offers no basis in its experience for the change, and since the interpretation lacks support in the statute's plain language. Although this Court does not wholly discount the interpretation, it is of insufficient weight, even when considered in combination with petitioners' other arguments, to overcome the presumption against extraterritorial application. Pp.

256-258.

(d) Congress' awareness of the need to make a clear statement that a statute applies overseas is amply demonstrated by the numerous occasions on which it has legislated extraterritoriality, including its amendment of the ADEA. Congress may similarly amend Title VII, and, in doing so, will be able to calibrate its provisions in a way that this Court cannot. Pp. 258-259.

892 F.2d 1271 (CA 5 1990), affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion

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concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post at 259. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and STEVENS, JJ., joined post at 260.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases present the issue whether Title VII applies extraterritorially to regulate the employment practices of United States employers who employ United States citizens abroad. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth

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Circuit held that it does not, and we agree with that conclusion.

Petitioner Boureslan is a naturalized United States citizen who was born in Lebanon. The respondents are two Delaware corporations, [111 S.Ct. 1230] Arabian. American Oil Company (Aramco), and its subsidiary, Aramco Service Company (ASC). Aramco's principal place of business is Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and it is licensed to do business in Texas. ASC's principal place of business is Houston, Texas.

In 1979, Boureslan was hired by ASC as a cost engineer in Houston. A year later, he was transferred, at his request, to work for Aramco in Saudi Arabia. Boureslan remained with Aramco in Saudi Arabia until he was discharged in 1984. After filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), he instituted this suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas against Aramco and ASC. He sought relief under both state law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 243, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000a-2000h-6, on the ground that he was harassed and ultimately discharged by respondents on account of his race, religion, and national origin.

Respondents filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Boureslan's claim because the protections of Title VII do not extend to United States citizens employed abroad by American employers. The District Court agreed, and dismissed Boureslan's Title VII claim; it also dismissed his state law claims for lack of pendent jurisdiction, and entered final judgment in favor of respondents. A panel for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. After vacating the panel's decision and rehearing the case en banc, the court affirmed the District Court's dismissal of Boureslan's complaint. Both Boureslan and the EEOC petitioned for certiorari. We granted both petitions for certiorari to resolve this important issue of statutory interpretation.

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Both parties concede, as they must, that Congress has the authority to enforce its laws beyond the territorial boundaries of the United States. Cf. Foley Bros., Inc. v. Filardo, 336 U.S. 281, 284-285 (1949); Benz v. Compania Naviera Hidalgo, S.A., 353 U.S. 138, 147 (1957). Whether Congress has in fact exercised that authority in this case is a matter of statutory construction. It is our task to determine whether Congress intended the protections of Title VII to apply to United States citizens employed by American employers outside of the United States.

It is a longstanding principle of American law "that legislation of Congress, unless a contrary intent appears, is meant to apply only within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States." Foley Bros., 336 U.S. at 285. This "canon of construction . . . is a valid approach whereby unexpressed congressional intent may be ascertained." Ibid. It serves to protect against unintended clashes between our laws and those of other nations which could result in international discord. See McCulloch v. Sociedad Nacional de Marineros de Honduras, 372 U.S. 10, 20-22 (1963).

In applying this rule of construction, we look to see whether

language in the [relevant act] gives any indication of a congressional purpose to extend its coverage beyond places over which the United States has sovereignty or has some measure of legislative control.

Foley Bros., supra, 336 U.S. at 285. We assume that Congress legislates against the backdrop of the presumption against extraterritoriality. Therefore, unless there is "the affirmative intention of the Congress clearly expressed," Benz, supra, 353 U.S. at 147, we must presume it "is primarily concerned with domestic conditions." Foley Bros., supra, 336 U.S. at 285.

Boureslan and the EEOC contend that the language of Title VII evinces a clearly expressed intent on behalf of Congress to legislate extraterritorially. They rely principally on two provisions of the statute. First, petitioners argue that the statute's [111 S.Ct. 1231] definitions of the jurisdictional terms "employer"

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and "commerce" are sufficiently broad to include U.S. firms that employ American citizens overseas. Second, they maintain that the statute's "alien exemption" clause, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1, necessarily implies that Congress intended to protect American...

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