Barnes v. Costle

Decision Date27 July 1977
Docket NumberNo. 74-2026,74-2026
Citation183 U.S. App. D.C. 90,561 F.2d 983
Parties15 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 345, 46 A.L.R.Fed. 198, 14 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 7755, 183 U.S.App.D.C. 90 Paulette L. BARNES, Appellant, v. Douglas M. COSTLE, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Linda R. Singer, Washington, D. C., with whom Ronald L. Goldfarb, Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellant.

Michael A. Pace, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., with whom Earl J. Silbert, U. S. Atty., John A. Terry, Peter R. Reilly, Mary-Elizabeth Medaglia, Asst. U. S. Attys., and James F. McMullin, Asst. U. S. Atty., at the time the brief was filed, Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellee.

Before BAZELON, Chief Judge, and ROBINSON and MacKINNON, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON, III, Circuit Judge.

Concurring Opinion filed by MacKINNON, Circuit Judge.


This appeal launches a review of an order of the District Court awarding a summary judgment to appellee 1 on the ground that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 2 as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 3 does not offer redress for appellant's complaint that her job at the Environmental Protection Agency was abolished because she repulsed her male superior's sexual advances. 4 We reverse.


Appellant, a black woman, was hired by the director of the Agency's equal employment opportunity division, who also is black, as his administrative assistant at grade GS-5. During a pre-employment interview, she asserts, he promised a promotion to grade GS-7 within ninety days. Shortly after commencement of the employment, she claims, the director initiated a quest for sexual favors by "(a) repeatedly soliciting (her) to join him for social activities after office hours, notwithstanding (her) repeated refusal to do so; (b) by making repeated remarks to (her) which were sexual in nature; (c) by repeatedly suggesting to (her) that if she cooperated with him in a sexual affair, her employment status would be enhanced." 5 Appellant states that she "continually resisted (his) overtures . . . and finally advised him that notwithstanding his stated belief that many executives 'have affairs with their personnel', she preferred that their relationship remain a strictly professional one." 6 Thereafter, she charges, the director "alone and in concert with other agents of (appellee), began a conscious campaign to belittle (her), to harrass her and to strip her of her job duties, all culminating in the decision of (appellee's) agent . . . to abolish (her) job in retaliation for (her) refusal to grant him sexual favors." 7 These activities, appellant declares, "would not have occurred but for (her) sex." 8

After seeking unsuccessfully an informal resolution of the matter, appellant, acting pro se, filed a formal complaint alleging that the director sought to remove her from his office when she "refused to have an after hour affair with" him. 9 The complaint charged discrimination based on race rather than gender, 10 a circumstance which appellant attributes to erroneous advice by agency personnel. 11 A hearing on the complaint was conducted by an appeals examiner, who excluded proffered evidence of sex discrimination and found no evidence of race discrimination. 12 In its final decision, the Agency concurred in the examiner's finding. 13

Appellant then obtained counsel and appealed to the Civil Service Commission. There, appellant's attorney requested the Board of Appeals and Review to reopen the record to enable the presentation of sex-discrimination evidence. 14 The Board, however affirmed the agency's negative finding on race discrimination and refused the request to reopen on the ground that appellant's allegations did not bring the case within the purview of the Commission's regulations implementing Title VII. 15

Thereafter, appellant filed her complaint in the District Court, confining her theory, by allegations to which we have averted, 16 to sex discrimination violative of Title VII and the Fifth Amendment. 17 The court, limiting the inquiry to reexamination of the administrative record, 18 granted appellee's motion for summary judgment in the view that "the alleged discriminatory practices are not encompassed by the Act." 19 The "alleged retaliatory actions of (appellant's) supervisor taken because (appellant) refused his request for an 'after hour affair,' " the court held, "are not the type of discriminatory conduct contemplated by the 1972 Act." 20 The court reasoned:

The substance of (appellant's) complaint is that she was discriminated against, not because she was a woman, but because she refused to engage in a sexual affair with her supervisor. This is a controversy underpinned by the subtleties of an inharmonious personal relationship. Regardless of how inexcusable the conduct of (appellant's) supervisor might have been, it does not evidence an arbitrary barrier to continued employment based on (appellant's) sex. 21

The appeal to this court then followed.


By adoption of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 22 Congress made it an unlawful employment practice for nongovernmental employers, with exceptions not presently relevant, 23 "to . . . discriminate against any individual with respect to his . . . terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex . . . ." 24 Unfortunately, the early history of that legislation lends no assistance to endeavors to define the scope of this prohibition more precisely, if indeed any elucidation were needed. It was offered as an addition to other proscriptions by opponents in a last-minute attempt to block the bill which became the Act, 25 and the bill, with the amendment barring sex-discrimination, then quickly passed. 26 Thus, for an eight-year period following its original enactment, there was no legislative history to refine the congressional language.

When, however, the 1964 Act was amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 27 there was considerable discussion on the topic. Not surprisingly, it then became evident that Congress was deeply concerned about employment discrimination founded on gender, and intended to combat it as vigorously as any other type of forbidden discrimination. The report of the House Committee on Education and Labor declared in ringing tones that the statute eight years after passage still had much to accomplish in order to elevate the status of women in employment: 28

Numerous studies have shown that women are placed in the less challenging, the less responsible and the less remunerative positions on the basis of their sex alone.

Such blatantly disparate treatment is particularly objectionable in view of the fact that Title VII has specifically prohibited sex discrimination since its enactment in 1964. 29

The Committee emphasized that women's employment rights are not "judicial divertissements," 30 and that "(d)iscrimination against women is no less serious than other forms of prohibited employment practices and is to be accorded the same degree of social concern given to any type of unlawful discrimination." 31 The report of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare reveals a similar commitment to eradication of sex discrimination: 32

While some have looked at the entire issue of women's rights as a frivolous divertissement, this Committee believes that discrimination against women is no less serious than other prohibited forms of discrimination, and that it is to be accorded the same degree of concern given to any type of similarly unlawful conduct. As a further point, recent studies have shown that there is a close correlation between discrimination based on sex and racial discrimination, and that both possess similar characteristics. 33

Not unexpectedly, then, during the thirteen years since enactment of Title VII it has become firmly established that the Act invalidates all "artificial, arbitrary and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of . . . impermissible classification(s)." 34 Title VII has been invoked to strike down a wide variety of impediments to equal employment opportunity between the sexes, including insufficiently validated tests, 35 discriminatory seniority systems, 36 weight-lifting requirements, 37 and height and weight standards solely for those of one gender. 38 Congress could hardly have been more explicit in its command that there be no sex-based discrimination "against any individual with respect to his . . . terms, conditions, or privileges of employment . . . ." 39

The equal employment measures of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not apply to the Federal Government. 40 The amendments to Title VII effected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, however, extended the substantive protections of the 1964 Act to federal as well as state and local employees. 41 In the federal domain, the 1972 Act provides in relevant part that

(a)ll personnel actions affecting employees or applicants for employment . . . in executive agencies . . . shall be made free from any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. 42

To be sure, the language of the 1964 Act in reference to private employees differs somewhat from that of the 1972 Act respecting federal employees. But it is beyond cavil that Congress legislated for federal employees essentially the same guarantees against sex discrimination that previously it had afforded private employees. 43 We thus proceed to an examination of appellant's claim with the assurance that anything constituting sex discrimination in private employment is equally interdicted in the federal sector. 44


Title VII now requires, inter alia, that "(a)ll personnel actions affecting employees . . . in (federal)...

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