MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
In 1972 Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 so as to empower the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to bring suit in a federal district court against a private employer alleged to have violated the Act. The sole question presented by this case is what time limitation, if any, is imposed on the EEOC's power to bring such a suit.
On December 27, 1970, an employee of the petitioner Occidental Life Insurance Co. filed a charge with the EEOC claiming that the company had discriminated against her because of her sex.
The District Court granted the company's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the law requires that an enforcement action be brought within 180 days of the filing of a charge with the EEOC.
We granted certiorari, 429 U.S. 1022, to consider an important and recurring question regarding Title VII.
As enacted in 1964, Title VII limited the EEOC's function to investigation of employment discrimination charges and informal methods of conciliation and persuasion.
In the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972
The 1972 Act expressly imposes only one temporal restriction on the EEOC's authority to embark upon the final stage of enforcement—the bringing of a civil suit in a federal district court: Under § 706 (f) (1), the EEOC may not invoke the judicial power to compel compliance with Title VII until at least 30 days after a charge has been filed. But neither § 706 (f) nor any other section of the Act explicitly requires the EEOC to conclude its conciliation efforts and bring an enforcement suit within any maximum period of time.
The language of the Act upon which the District Court relied in finding a limitation that bars the bringing of a lawsuit by the EEOC more than 180 days after a timely charge has been filed with it is found in § 706 (f) (1), 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (f) (1) (1970 ed., Supp. V), which provides in relevant part:
On its face, § 706 (f) (1) provides little support for the argument that the 180-day provision is such a statute of limitations. Rather than limiting action by the EEOC, the provision seems clearly addressed to an alternative enforcement procedure: If a complainant is dissatisfied with the progress the EEOC is making on his or her charge of employment discrimination, he or she may elect to circumvent the EEOC procedures and seek relief through a private enforcement action in a district court. The 180-day limitation provides only that this private right of action does not arise until 180 days after a charge has been filed. Nothing in § 706 (f) (1) indicates that EEOC enforcement powers cease if the complainant decides to leave the case in the hands of the EEOC rather than to pursue a private action.
In short, the literal language of § 706 (f) (1) simply cannot support a determination that it imposes a 180-day time limitation on EEOC enforcement suits. On the contrary, a natural reading of § 706 (f) (1) can lead only to the conclusion that it simply provides that a complainant whose charge is not dismissed or promptly settled or litigated by the EEOC may himself bring a lawsuit, but that he must wait 180 days before doing so. After waiting for that period, the complainant may either file a private action within 90 days after EEOC notification or continue to leave the ultimate resolution of his charge to the efforts of the EEOC.
Only if the legislative history of § 706 (f) (1) provided firm evidence that the subsection cannot mean what it so clearly seems to say would there be any justification for construing it in any other way. But no such evidence is to be found.
The dominant Title VII battle in the 92d Congress was over what kind of additional enforcement powers should be granted to the EEOC. Proponents of increased EEOC power
The supporters of cease-and-desist authority won the first victory when Committees in both Houses favorably reported bills providing for that enforcement technique. The bill reported by the House Committee contained a section entitled "Civil Actions by Persons Aggrieved," embodying the provisions that eventually became that part of § 706 (f) (1) at issue in the present case.
The Committee Report clearly explained that the purpose of this provision was to afford an aggrieved person the option of withdrawing his case from the EEOC if he was dissatisfied with the rate at which his charge was being processed:
Opponents of cease-and-desist authority carried their cause to the floor of the House, where Congressmen Erlenborn and Mazzoli introduced a substitute bill, which authorized the EEOC when conciliation failed to file federal-court actions rather than conduct its own hearings and issue cease-and-desist orders. The Erlenborn-Mazzoli substitute contained a private action provision substantially the same as that of the Committee bill.
Senate action on amendments to Title VII was essentially parallel to that of the House, beginning with the introduction of a bill giving the EEOC cease-and-desist power, and ending with the substitution of a bill authorizing it instead to file suits in the federal courts. As in the House, both the original and substitute Senate bills authorized complainants dissatisfied with the pace of EEOC proceedings to bring individual lawsuits after 180 days.
The Senate Committee further noted that the "primary concern should be to protect the aggrieved person's option to seek a prompt remedy," and that the purpose of the 180-day provision was to preserve "the private right of action by an aggrieved person."
Senator Dominick led the opposition to the Committee bill on the floor of the Senate. His substitute bill did not give the EEOC power to issue cease-and-desist orders but authorized it instead to bring enforcement suits in federal courts. The substitute bill also contained a provision authorizing private lawsuits almost identical to that contained in the Committee bill. There ensued a month-long Senate debate, at the conclusion of which the substitute bill was adopted by the Senate. During the course of that debate there were only a few isolated and ambiguous references to the provision in the substitute bill authorizing federal suits by complainants dissatisfied with EEOC delay.
After the final Senate vote the House and Senate bills were sent to a Conference Committee. An analysis presented to the Senate with the Conference Report provides the final and conclusive confirmation of the meaning of § 706 (f) (1):
The legislative history of § 706 (f) (1) thus demonstrates that the provision was intended to mean exactly what it seems to say: An aggrieved person unwilling to await the conclusion of extended EEOC proceedings may institute a private lawsuit 180 days after a charge has been filed. The subsection imposes no limitation upon the power of the EEOC to file suit in a federal court.
The company argues that if the Act contains no limitation on the time during which an EEOC enforcement suit may be brought, then the most analogous state statute of limitations should be applied.
When Congress has created a cause of action and has not specified the period of time within which it may be asserted, the Court has frequently inferred that Congress intended that a local time limitation should apply. E. g., Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160, 179-182 (Civil Rights Act of 1866); Auto Workers v. Hoosier Cardinal Corp., 383 U.S. 696 (§ 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act); O'Sullivan v. Felix, 233 U.S. 318 (Civil Rights Act of 1871); Chattanooga Foundry & Pipe Works v. Atlanta, 203 U.S. 390 (Sherman Antitrust Act); Campbell v. Haverhill, 155 U.S. 610 (Patent Act). This "implied absorption of State statutes of limitation within the interstices of . . . federal enactments is a phase of fashioning remedial details where Congress has not spoken but left matters for judicial determination." Holmberg v. Armbrecht, 327 U.S. 392, 395.
But the Court has not mechanically applied a state statute of limitations simply because a limitations period is absent from the federal statute. State legislatures do not devise their limitations periods with national interests in mind, and it is the duty of the federal courts to assure that the importation of state law will not frustrate or interfere with the implementation of national policies. "Although state law is our primary guide in this area, it is not, to be sure, our exclusive guide." Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, 421 U.S. 454, 465. State limitations periods will not be borrowed if their application would be inconsistent with the underlying policies of the federal statute. Ibid.; Auto Workers v. Hoosier Cardinal Corp., supra, at 701; Board of County Comm'rs v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 352. With these considerations in mind, we turn to the company's argument in this case.
When Congress first enacted Title VII in 1964 it selected "[c]ooperation and voluntary compliance . . . as the preferred
In view of the federal policy requiring employment discrimination claims to be investigated by the EEOC and, whenever possible, administratively resolved before suit is brought in a federal court, it is hardly appropriate to rely on the "State's wisdom in setting a limit . . . on the prosecution. . . ." Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, supra, at 464. For the "State's wisdom" in establishing a general limitation period could not have taken into account the decision of Congress to delay judicial action while the EEOC performs its administrative responsibilities. See Order of Railroad Telegraphers v. Railway Express Agency, 321 U.S. 342, 348; Cope v. Anderson, 331 U.S. 461, 464; Rawlings v. Ray, 312 U.S. 96, 98. Indeed, the one-year statute of limitations applied by the District Court in this case could
But even in cases involving no inevitable and direct conflict with the express time periods provided in the Act, absorption of state limitations would be inconsistent with the congressional intent underlying the enactment of the 1972 amendments. Throughout the congressional debates many Members of both Houses demonstrated an acute awareness of the enormous backlog of cases before the EEOC
Congress did express concern for the need of time limitations in the fair operation of the Act, but that concern was directed entirely to the initial filing of a charge with the EEOC and prompt notification thereafter to the alleged violator. The bills passed in both the House and the Senate contained short time periods within which charges were to be filed with the EEOC and notice given to the employer.
The fact that the only statute of limitations discussions in Congress were directed to the period preceding the filing of an initial charge is wholly consistent with the Act's overall enforcement structure—a sequential series of steps beginning with the filing of a charge with the EEOC. Within this procedural framework, the benchmark, for purposes of a statute of limitations, is not the last phase of the multistage scheme, but the commencement of the proceeding before the administrative body.
The absence of inflexible time limitations on the bringing of lawsuits will not, as the company asserts, deprive defendants in Title VII civil actions of fundamental fairness or subject them to the surprise and prejudice that can result from the prosecution of stale claims. Unlike the litigant in a private action who may first learn of the cause against him upon service of the complaint, the Title VII defendant is alerted to the possibility of an enforcement suit within 10 days after a charge has been filed. This prompt notice serves, as Congress intended, to give him an opportunity to gather and preserve evidence in anticipation of a court action.
Moreover, during the pendency of EEOC administrative proceedings, a potential defendant is kept informed of the progress of the action. Regulations promulgated by the EEOC require that the charged party be promptly notified when a determination of reasonable cause has been made,
It is, of course, possible that despite these procedural protections a defendant in a Title VII enforcement action might still be significantly handicapped in making his defense because of an inordinate EEOC delay in filing the action after exhausting its conciliation efforts. If such cases arise the federal courts do not lack the power to provide relief. This Court has said that when a Title VII defendant is in fact prejudiced by a private plaintiff's unexcused conduct of a particular case, the trial court may restrict or even deny backpay relief. Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 424-425. The same discretionary power "to locate `a just result' in light of the circumstances peculiar to the case," ibid., can also be exercised when the EEOC is the plaintiff.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting in part.
While I agree with Part II of the Court's opinion, holding that § 706 (f) (1), 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (f) (1) (1970 ed., Supp. V), does not impose a limitation on the power of the EEOC to file suit in a federal court, I do not agree with the Court's conclusion in Part III that the EEOC is not bound by any limitations period at all. The Court's actions, and the reasons which it assigns for them, suggest that it is more concerned with limitlessly expanding the important underlying statutory policy than it is with considerations traditionally dealt with by judges. Since I believe that a consistent line of opinions from this Court holding that, in the absence of a
Since I agree with the Court that the Act contains no limitation on the time during which an enforcement suit may be brought by the EEOC, I also agree with it that the relevant inquiry is whether the most analogous state statute of limitations applies. Unless the United States is suing in its sovereign capacity, a matter which I treat below, the answer one would have derived before today from the opinions of this Court over a period of 140 years would surely have been "yes." See, e. g., McCluny v. Silliman, 3 Pet. 270, 277 (1830); Campbell v. Haverhill, 155 U.S. 610 (1895); McClaine v. Rankin, 197 U.S. 154 (1905); Chattanooga Foundry & Pipe Works v. Atlanta, 203 U.S. 390 (1906); O'Sullivan v. Felix, 233 U.S. 318 (1914); Auto Workers v. Hoosier Cardinal Corp., 383 U.S. 696 (1966); Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, 421 U.S. 454 (1975); Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160 (1976).
The Court, however, today relies on basically two interrelated reasons for refusing to apply California's applicable statute of limitations to suits brought by the EEOC. First, the Court postulates that "the Court has not mechanically applied a state statute of limitations simply because a limitations period is absent from the federal statute." Ante, at 367. Second, "State legislatures do not devise their limitations periods with national interests in mind, and it is the duty of the federal courts to assure that the importation of state law will not frustrate or interfere with the implementation of national policies." Ibid. Both of these assertions are created out of whole cloth; contrary to their tenor, neither statement, as applied to statutes of limitations, draws sustenance from
This Court has long followed the rule that, unless the United States was suing in its sovereign capacity, "in the absence of any provision of the act of Congress creating the liability, fixing a limitation of time for commencing actions to enforce it, the statute of limitations of the particular State is applicable." McClaine v. Rankin, supra, at 158. See also Cope v. Anderson, 331 U.S. 461, 463 (1947). The consistent nature of this history was described in Auto Workers v. Hoosier Cardinal Corp., supra, at 703-704:
This general policy has been recently reaffirmed with respect to lawsuits brought under 42 U. S. C. § 1981, see Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, supra, at 462; Runyon v. McCrary, supra, at 180. Indeed, Johnson noted that "the express terms of 42 U. S. C. § 1988 suggest" that there is not "anything peculiar to a federal civil rights action that would justify special reluctance in applying state law." 421 U. S., at 464. The Court fails to point to any case not involving the
As for the second point, I can readily concede that the California Legislature did not specifically consider the federal interests underlying the enactment of Title VII. But this argument begs the question. This Court, in 1830, rejected the argument that a state statute of limitations should not apply because the State had not considered the federal policies. It stated, in McCluny v. Silliman, supra, at 277-278:
Similar arguments were also rejected in construing § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, Auto Workers v. Hoosier Cardinal Corp., 383 U. S., at 701-704. And in both Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, and Runyon v. McCrary, we followed, without hesitation, state limitations periods even though one would suppose that the federal policies underlying 42 U. S. C. § 1981 were of a magnitude comparable to those of Title VII and even though the general state statute of limitations would hardly have taken these policies into account.
The Court apparently rests its case on the authority of three opinions: Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Auto Workers v. Hoosier Cardinal Corp., and Board of County Comm'rs v. United States, 308 U.S. 343 (1939). None are applicable. Johnson did not state, or hint, that "[s]tate limitations periods will not be borrowed if their application would be inconsistent with the underlying policies of the federal statute." Ante, at 367. Rather, after concluding that the state limitations period applied, it turned, in a separate section of the opinion, to a question of tolling, 421 U. S., at 465, where the statement that "[a]lthough state law is our primary guide in this area, it is not, to be sure, our exclusive guide," so heavily relied on by the Court today, is found. Nor does Auto Workers provide support for the Court: pointing
The premises of the majority, then, are supported, not by a slender reed, but by no reed at all. Perhaps the Court's decision can be explained by its apparent fear that the application of the State's limitations period will result in the anomaly of the statute's running before the EEOC is entitled to bring its suit at all. Ante, at 369 n. 23. The Court notes, ante, at 368: "Unlike the typical litigant against whom a statute of limitations might appropriately run, the EEOC is required by law to refrain from commencing a civil action until it has discharged its administrative duties." If this fear is the motivating reason behind the Court's unusual action today, it rests on a misunderstanding of the nature of the application of a State's limitations period to a federal action brought by the EEOC.
The EEOC may not bring a suit on behalf of a complainant for a violation of Title VII until 30 days after a charge is filed with the EEOC, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (f) (1) (1970 ed., Supp. V); see ante, at 360. It would appear that, as a matter of federal law, the EEOC's cause of action accrues on that date, which is the date on which it first becomes entitled to
In this case, Tamar Edelson filed her charge with the EEOC on December 27, 1970, when it was referred to the California Fair Employment Practices Commission in accordance with the provisions of 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (c). When that agency took no action, the charge was formally filed with the EEOC on March 9, 1971. The EEOC, then, had 1 year and 30 days from that point in which to investigate and attempt to secure voluntary compliance. Since the EEOC is directed to "make its determination on reasonable cause as promptly as possible and, so far as practicable, not later than one hundred and twenty days from the [formal] filing of the charge," 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (b) (1970 ed., Supp. V), this time period of more than one year would appear ample to ensure that what the Court perceives to be federal policy, including voluntary settlement negotiations, is
Insofar as the EEOC seeks to recover backpay for individuals, it stands in the shoes of the individuals, and represents them in a suit the individuals would otherwise be entitled to bring, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (f) (1) (1970 ed., Supp. V). Not only is the United States itself not a party to the suit, but the EEOC is vindicating a right which a private party was entitled to vindicate in his own right. Cf. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., supra, at 45. Since the United States is not suing in its sovereign capacity, there is no reason to exempt these suits from the general application of state limitations statutes. The scope of the relevant inquiry
As this has been interpreted, the decisive fact which excepts the general applicability of these statutes is that the United States is suing to enforce "its rights." United States v. Summerlin, 310 U.S. 414, 416 (1940) (emphasis added); see also United States v. Nashville, C. & St. L. R. Co., 118 U.S. 120, 125 (1886); United States v. Des Moines Navigation & R. Co., 142 U.S. 510, 538-539 (1892); United States v. Bell Telephone Co., 167 U.S. 224, 264-265 (1897); French Republic v. Saratoga Vichy Co., 191 U.S. 427, 438 (1903). In Beebe itself, the Court acknowledged that "[t]he Government is charged with the duty . . . to protect [the public domain] from trespass and unlawful appropriation . . . ." 127 U. S., at 342. See also Moran v. Horsky, 178 U.S. 205, 213 (1900). Yet this "interest" was not sufficient to make it a suit by the sovereign, unbounded by a limitations period. While the Government may be interested in the vindication of the policies enunciated in Title VII, cf. Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co., 424 U.S. 747, 778 n. 40 (1976)—as,
The conclusion should be no different when we turn to the issue of injunctive relief. The decisive fact remains the same: The sovereign is not suing to redress "its" injury, rather it is seeking relief that the complaining individual otherwise would have been entitled to seek. While injunctive relief may appear more "broad based," it nonetheless is redress for individuals. The United States gains nothing tangible as a result of the suit. It does, to be sure, vindicate a congressional policy by seeking to enjoin practices proscribed by Title VII, but, it bears repeating, presumably the Government vindicates some congressional policy whenever it sues. That, then, cannot be the test, for it would exalt form (who brings the suit) over substance (whom the suit directly benefits). For these reasons, I am unable to agree with the Ninth Circuit that because the EEOC promotes public policy by its prayer for injunctive relief, it therefore "seeks to vindicate rights belonging to the United States as sovereign," 535 F.2d 533, 537. This reason does not adequately distinguish a prayer for injunctive relief from a prayer by the EEOC for backpay for individuals.
Robert T. Thompson, Lawrence Kraus, and Richard P. O'Brecht filed a brief for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States as amicus curiae.
"If (1) the Commission determines that there is no reasonable cause to believe the charge is true and dismisses the charge . . . , (2) finds no probable jurisdiction and dismisses the charge, or (3) within one hundred and eighty days after a charge is filed with the Commission . . . , the Commission has not either (i) issued a complaint . . . , (ii) determined that there is not reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true and dismissed the charge, . . . or (iii) entered into a conciliation agreement . . . , the Commission shall so notify the person aggrieved and within sixty days after the giving so such notice a civil action may be brought . . . by the person claiming to be aggrieved . . . . Upon timely application, the court may, in its discretion, permit the Commission to intervene in such civil action if it certifies that the case is of general public importance. Upon the commencement of such civil action, the Commission shall be divested of jurisdiction over the proceeding and shall take no further action with respect thereof [sic] . . . ." H. R. 1746, 92d Cong., 1st Sess., § 8 (j) (1971), reprinted in H. R. Rep. No. 92-238, pp. 54-55 (1971).
"I think this change is very meritorious, as I pointed out in my first statement. I do not think the Commission should be mandated on what date an agency should bring suit when we are trying to work out matters the best we can by conciliation." Id., at 1069.
The company contends that the numerous references in the debates to the EEOC's backlog and delays demonstrate that by adopting the court enforcement plan Congress intended to restrict the time allowed for investigation and conciliation of a charge. Nearly all of the references, however, were in the context of discussions of whether enforcement after conciliation efforts had failed could be accomplished more expeditiously through an administrative process or through lawsuits in the federal courts. The concern, therefore, was with the additional delays that complainants would suffer if the EEOC were given the task of conducting its own hearings and issuing cease-and-desist orders. Congressional concern over delays during the investigation and conciliation process was resolved by providing complainants with the continuing opportunity to withdraw their cases from the EEOC and bring private suits. See Part II, supra.
The requirement of reasonable notice quickly received the support of proponents of the Committee bill. Id., at 31783-31784 (remarks of Rep. Dent); id., at 31961 (remarks of Rep. Perkins). In the Senate a 10-day-notice provision was included in the bill reported out of Committee in order "to protect fully the rights of the person or persons against whom the charge is filed." S. Rep. No. 92-415, p. 25 (1971).