Brown v. General Services Administration, No. 74-768

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEWART
Citation48 L.Ed.2d 402,425 U.S. 820,96 S.Ct. 1961
Decision Date01 June 1976
Docket NumberNo. 74-768
PartiesClarence BROWN, Petitioner, v. GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION et al

425 U.S. 820
96 S.Ct. 1961
48 L.Ed.2d 402
Clarence BROWN, Petitioner,

v.

GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION et al.

No. 74-768.
Argued March 1, 2, 1976.
Decided June 1, 1976.
Syllabus

Section 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as added by § 11 of the Equal employment 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 ex-

Page 821

clusive judicial remedy for cims 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, pre-emptive 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, 95 S.Ct. 1716, 44 L.Ed.2d 295, distinguished. Pp. 832-834.

(c) A precisely drawn, detailed statute pre-empts more general remedies. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439. Pp. 834-835.

507 F.2d 1300, 2 Cir., affirmed.

Eric Schnapper, New York City, for petitioner.

Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D. C., for respondents.

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.

Page 822

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 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

Page 823

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

Page 824

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

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 pre-empt 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, 95 S.Ct. 1989, 44 L.Ed.2d 476 (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),

Page 825

theexclusive 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 § 7'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, 74 S.Ct. 693, 98 L.Ed. 884 (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 Com-

Page 826

mission for fear that doing so will only result in antagonizing their supervisors and impairing any future hope of advancement." 6

If administrative remedies were ineffective, judicial relief from federal employment discrimination was even more problematic before 1972. Although an action seeking to enjoin unconstitutional agency conduct would lie,7 it was doubtful that...

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1937 practice notes
  • Scarborough v. Natsios, No. Civ.A. 99-2454(ESH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 20, 2002
    ...employing agency in a timely manner, and must exhaust administrative remedies before bringing an action in federal court. Brown v. GSA, 425 U.S. 820, 832-33, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402 (1976). An EEOC regulation governs the time limit for initially filing a discrimination claim with a co......
  • Tri-State Hosp. Supply Corp. v. U.S., Civil Action No. 00-01463(HHK).
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • June 1, 2001
    ...limitations of a statute or to suggest that they are seeking one thing when they are really asking for another. See, e.g., Brown v. GSA, 425 U.S. 820, 833, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402 (1976) ("It would require the suspension of disbelief to ascribe to Congress the design to allow its care......
  • Hays v. Farwell, No. 3:04-cv-0011-RLH-VPC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Nevada
    • March 22, 2007
    ...to the presumption of innocence until such time as the jury reaches a verdict finding guilt. Estellee v. Williams 425 U. S. 501, 503, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 126 (1976); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). Removing or minimizing that presumption in the eyes ......
  • Hamilton v. Dist. Of D.C., Civil Action No. 09-0892 (JDB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • July 6, 2010
    ...110While federal employees must bring discrimination claims against their employers under Title VII, Brown v. General Services Admin., 425 U.S. 820, 829, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402 (1976), Congress did not similarly designate Title VII as the exclusive remedy for state and local employee......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1934 cases
  • Scarborough v. Natsios, No. Civ.A. 99-2454(ESH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 20, 2002
    ...employing agency in a timely manner, and must exhaust administrative remedies before bringing an action in federal court. Brown v. GSA, 425 U.S. 820, 832-33, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402 (1976). An EEOC regulation governs the time limit for initially filing a discrimination claim with a co......
  • Tri-State Hosp. Supply Corp. v. U.S., Civil Action No. 00-01463(HHK).
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • June 1, 2001
    ...limitations of a statute or to suggest that they are seeking one thing when they are really asking for another. See, e.g., Brown v. GSA, 425 U.S. 820, 833, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402 (1976) ("It would require the suspension of disbelief to ascribe to Congress the design to allow its care......
  • Hays v. Farwell, No. 3:04-cv-0011-RLH-VPC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Nevada
    • March 22, 2007
    ...to the presumption of innocence until such time as the jury reaches a verdict finding guilt. Estellee v. Williams 425 U. S. 501, 503, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 126 (1976); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). Removing or minimizing that presumption in the eyes ......
  • Hamilton v. Dist. Of D.C., Civil Action No. 09-0892 (JDB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • July 6, 2010
    ...110While federal employees must bring discrimination claims against their employers under Title VII, Brown v. General Services Admin., 425 U.S. 820, 829, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402 (1976), Congress did not similarly designate Title VII as the exclusive remedy for state and local employee......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Sex Discrimination Claims Under Title Vii of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law Nbr. XXII-2, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...are widely recognized as valid, non-discriminatory bases for any adverse employment decision.”). 59. Brown v. Gen. Servs. Admin., 425 U.S. 820, 835 (1976); Ferguson v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 206 F. Supp. 2d 374, 376 (E.D.N.Y. 2002). 60. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a) (West); Robinson v. Shell Oil C......
  • "Last Hired, First Fired" and Public Employee Layoffs: the Equal Employment Opportunity Dilemma
    • United States
    • Review of Public Personnel Administration Nbr. 2-1, September 1981
    • September 1, 1981
    ...1866 and 1871 to Redress Employment Discrimination." Cornell Law Review 62 (January). 46 Brown v. General Services Administration (1976). 425 U.S. 820. Bro wn v. Neeb (1981). 644 F. 2d Business Week (1974). "Last Hired, First Fired, Takes It On The Chin." (March 9). (1975). "Women: Last In,......

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