MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal court may allow the prevailing party attorney's fees for legal services performed in prosecuting an employment discrimination claim in state administrative and judicial proceedings that Title VII requires federal claimants to invoke.
Respondent Cidni Carey, in August 1974, applied for work as a cocktail waitress with petitioner New York Gaslight Club, Inc. After an interview, she was advised that no position was available.
The following January, respondent filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that petitioners, the Club and its manager, had denied her a position because of her race. App. to Brief for Respondent a1-a3. As required by § 706 (c) of Title VII of the Civil
In May 1975, after an investigation during which respondent was represented by counsel,
Counsel for respondent wrote to the EEOC on May 20, advising the Commission that respondent was proceeding in the Division. He asked that the Commission "reassume" jurisdiction over the claim so that, if necessary, respondent could obtain a right-to-sue letter at an appropriate time. On May 22, the EEOC responded, stating that an investigator would be assigned to respondent's matter as soon as possible.
The state administrative hearing was held on two separate days in late 1975 and early 1976. Both respondent and petitioners were represented by counsel. App. 68. No attorney for the State appeared. On August 13, 1976, the hearing examiner found that petitioners had discriminated against respondent because she is black. Id., at 70. Petitioners were ordered to offer respondent employment as a cocktail waitress and to pay her back wages from August 1974. Id., at 70-72. No attorney's fee was awarded.
Petitioners appealed to the New York State Human Rights Appeal Board, an agency established to hear appeals from orders of the Division. N. Y. Exec. Law § 297-a (McKinney 1972 and Supp. 1979). The Board held a hearing in December 1976 at which counsel for petitioners, respondent, and the Division appeared.
On August 26, the Appeal Board confirmed the Division's order. Petitioners immediately appealed the Board's decision to the New York Supreme Court. The Division cross-petitioned for enforcement of its order.
On September 30, respondent filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, asserting claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U. S. C. § 1981, Title VII, and the Thirteenth Amendment. App. 29. Respondent alleged that petitioners did not hire her because she is black, and that petitioner Club had employed only four blacks as waitresses during its 20-year existence. The complaint sought a declaratory judgment that petitioners' practices were unlawful under federal law, an order requiring petitioners to hire respondent, backpay with interest, retroactive employment-related benefits, attorney's fees, and other appropriate relief. Petitioners' answer denied virtually all the allegations in the complaint and cited the pendency of the state proceedings as an affirmative defense.
The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court on November 3 unanimously affirmed the Appeal Board's determination. New York Gaslight Club, Inc. v. New York State Human Rights Appeal Board, 59 App. Div. 2d 852, 399 N.Y.S.2d 158 (1977). Petitioners unsuccessfully moved for reargument, and then filed a motion with the New York Court of Appeals for leave to appeal.
The parties thereafter apparently agreed that the federal action could be dismissed, except for respondent's request for attorney's fees. See App. 75-79. Respondent sought an award for 82 hours of attorney's time. Of that total, 9 hours were spent in preparing and filing the EEOC charge and the federal suit, 22 hours were spent in preparing and presenting the case before the hearing examiner, 29 hours were spent in defending the Division's order before the Appeal Board and the state courts, and 22 hours were spent seeking the fee award. App. to Pet. for Cert. A39-A40.
In July 1978, the District Court dismissed respondent's complaint, App. 35, but left pending the application for attorney's fees. After further briefing, the court denied the fee request. 458 F.Supp. 79 (SDNY 1978).
The District Court found the propriety of the EEOC's issuance of a right-to-sue letter while state proceedings were pending "very doubtful." Id., at 80. Although the EEOC's action had given respondent no choice but to preserve her rights by filing a complaint in federal court, the District Court ruled that the mere filing of a federal suit does not entitle an aggrieved party to attorney's fees. The court reasoned that the fortuity of a need to file a protective federal suit should not make the defendants responsible for the costs of representing the plaintiff in the state forums. Id., at 81.
The District Court also relied on its conclusion that respondent "had the option of pursuing her state administrative remedies without incurring any expenses at all for legal services," since state law, N. Y. Exec. Law § 297 (4) (a) (McKinney Supp. 1978), provides that the case in support of the complaint is to be presented to the hearing examiner by one
A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed. 598 F.2d 1253 (1979). The court ruled: "A complaining party who is successful in state administrative proceedings after having her complaint under Title VII referred to a state agency in accordance with the statutory scheme of that Title is entitled to recover attorney's fees in the same manner as a party who prevails in federal court." Id., at 1260. The court relied on several factors in reaching its decision. Among them were the significant role of state human rights agencies in the Title VII enforcement scheme; the statute's strong preference for administrative resolution of a discrimination complaint; the importance of providing an incentive for complete development of the administrative record; the language of the statute's fee provision; and the desirability of encouraging a complainant to retain private counsel notwithstanding participation of a Division attorney at certain points during the state proceedings.
We granted certiorari, 444 U.S. 897 (1979), to consider this question that is significant to the enforcement of the antidiscrimination provisions of Title VII.
Section 706 (k) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 261, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (k), provides:
The words of § 706 (k) leave little doubt that fee awards are authorized for legal work done in "proceedings" other than court actions. Congress' use of the broadly inclusive disjunctive phrase "action or proceeding" indicates an intent to subject the losing party to an award of attorney's fees and costs that includes expenses incurred for administrative proceedings. This conclusion is supported by a comparison of § 706 (k) with another fee provision in the same Act, namely, § 204 (b) of Title II, 78 Stat. 244, 42 U. S. C. § 2000a-3 (b). The pertinent language of § 204 (b) is identical to that of § 706 (k) except that § 204 (b) permits an award only with respect to "any action commenced pursuant to this title." The two provisions were enacted contemporaneously as parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The omission of the words "or proceeding" from § 204 (b) is understandable, since enforcement of Title II depends solely on court actions. See Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 390 U.S. 400, 401 (1968). It is apparent, therefore, that the two fee provisions were carefully tailored to the enforcement scheme of each Title. It cannot be assumed that the words "or proceeding" in § 706 (k) are mere surplusage.
It might be argued that the words "or proceeding" authorize fee awards only for work done in federal administrative proceedings,
Section 706 (k) authorizes a fee award to the prevailing party in "any . . . proceeding under this title." (Emphasis added.) The same Title creates the system of deferral to state and local remedies. The statute uses the word "proceeding" to describe the state and local remedies to which complainants are required to resort. For example, § 706 (c), 86 Stat. 104, provides:
Indeed, throughout Title VII the word "proceeding," or its plural form, is used to refer to all the different types of proceedings in which the statute is enforced, state and federal,
This Court recently examined the legislative history and purpose of § 706 (k). In Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412 (1978), it was noted that, although the legislative history of § 706 (k) is "sparse," 434 U. S., at 420, it is clear that one of Congress' primary purposes in enacting the section was to "make it easier for a plaintiff of limited means to bring a meritorious suit." Ibid., quoting 110 Cong. Rec. 12724 (1964) (remarks of Sen. Humphrey). Because Congress has cast the Title VII plaintiff in the role of "a private attorney general," vindicating a policy "of the highest priority," a prevailing plaintiff "ordinarily is to be awarded attorney's fees in all but special circumstances." 434 U. S., at 416, 417. See also Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 390 U. S., at 402. It is clear that Congress intended to facilitate the bringing of discrimination complaints. Permitting an attorney's fee award to one in respondent's situation furthers this goal, while a contrary rule would force the complainant to bear the costs of mandatory state and local proceedings and thereby would inhibit the enforcement of a meritorious discrimination claim.
Title VII establishes a comprehensive enforcement scheme in which state agencies are given "a limited opportunity to resolve problems of employment discrimination and thereby to make unnecessary, resort to federal relief by victims of the discrimination." Oscar Mayer & Co. v. Evans, 441 U.S. 750, 755 (1979). Congress envisioned that Title VII's procedures and remedies would "mes[h] nicely, logically, and coherently with the State and city legislation," and that remedying employment
Pursuant to this policy of cooperation, Title VII provides that where the unlawful employment practice is alleged to have occurred in a State or locality which has a law prohibiting the practice and in which an agency has been established to enforce that law, "no charge may be filed [with the EEOC] by the person aggrieved before the expiration of sixty days after proceedings have been commenced under the State or local law, unless such proceedings have been earlier terminated." § 706 (c). In practice, § 706 (c) has resulted in EEOC's development of a referral and deferral system, which the Court approved in Love v. Pullman Co., 404 U.S. 522 (1972). When a charge is filed with the EEOC prior to exhaustion of state or local remedies, the Commission refers the complaint to the appropriate local agency. The EEOC then holds the complaint in "suspended animation." Id., at 526. Upon termination of the state proceedings or expiration of the 60-day deferral period, whichever comes first, the EEOC automatically assumes concurrent jurisdiction of the complaint. Ibid.
Of course, the "ultimate authority" to secure compliance with Title VII resides in the federal courts. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 44-45 (1974). The statute
It is clear from this scheme of interrelated and complementary state and federal enforcement that Congress viewed proceedings before the EEOC and in federal court as supplements to available state remedies for employment discrimination. Initial resort to state and local remedies is mandated, and recourse to the federal forums is appropriate only when the State does not provide prompt or complete relief. See Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U. S., at 48-50.
The construction of § 706 (k) that petitioners advocate clashes with this congressional design. Complainants unable to recover fees in state proceedings may be expected to wait out the 60-day deferral period, while focusing efforts on obtaining federal relief. See n. 6, infra. Only authorization of fee awards ensures incorporation of state procedures as a meaningful part of the Title VII enforcement scheme.
The District Court felt that granting a fee award to respondent would be a "windfall" based on the unforeseeable fortuity that filing a protective federal suit became necessary. 458 F. Supp., at 81. We agree with the District Court that the
Against the strong considerations favoring an award of fees, petitioners make three arguments. First, they contend that awarding fees for work done in state proceedings for
We must reject petitioners' Tenth Amendment argument. Congress' power under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment is broad, and overrides any interest the State might have in not authorizing awards for fees in connection with state proceedings. See Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (1978); Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445 (1976).
Petitioners cite Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132 (1963), Schwartz v. Texas, 344 U.S. 199 (1952), and Florida v. United States, 282 U.S. 194 (1931), in support of their argument that Congress' intent to pre-empt state regulation of the administration of state proceedings is not clearly expressed in § 706 (k) and should not be inferred. We find these cases inapposite. Section 706 (k) does not "pre-empt" state law. "Title VII was designed to supplement, rather than supplant, existing laws and institutions relating to employment discrimination." Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U. S., at 48-49. Title VII explicitly leaves the States free, and indeed encourages them, to exercise their regulatory power over discriminatory employment practices. Title VII merely provides a supplemental right to sue in federal court if satisfactory relief is not obtained in state forums. § 706 (f) (1). One aspect of complete relief is an
We also find no merit in petitioners' suggestion that denial of a fee award was within the District Court's discretion. As noted earlier, the court's discretion to deny a fee award to a prevailing plaintiff is narrow. Absent "special circumstances," see Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 390 U. S., at 402; Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U. S., at 416-417, fees should be awarded. Petitioners argue that the availability of a Division attorney to present the "case in support of the complaint" is a "special circumstance" which should deprive a prevailing complainant of a fee award. Clearly, however, an attorney is needed to assist the complainant during the state proceedings, and the Division employee does not take the place of private counsel.
The New York state procedure, to which respondent's charge was referred, provides for adversary quasi-judicial hearings leading to findings of fact, administrative appeals, and judicial review. The first stage of the state administrative action is the investigation; this results in either a finding of probable cause or a dismissal of the complaint. N. Y. Exec. Law § 297 (2) (McKinney Supp. 1979). A finding of probable cause after investigation is a necessary prelude to the public hearing. § 297 (4) (a). State law makes no provision for the participation of a Division attorney in the investigation, and a complainant is not represented by a Division attorney
Following the investigation, the Division attempts to conciliate the complainant's grievance with the employer. N. Y. Exec. Law §§ 297 (3) (a), (b), and (c) (McKinney 1972). No Division attorney participates in the conciliation efforts on behalf of the complainant, and the Division staff is even empowered to execute a settlement agreement with the employer over the complainant's objections. § 297 (3) (c).
If efforts at conciliation fail and a hearing is scheduled, state law provides:
At the time of the hearing on respondent's complaint, however, the practice of the Division was to involve one of its attorneys only if the complainant was not represented by private counsel. Brief for New York State Attorney General and New York State Division of Human Rights as Amici Curiae 5.
At the appellate level, the Division attorney appears only to support and seek enforcement of orders issued by the Division and the Appeal Board. N. Y. Exec. Law § 298 (McKinney Supp. 1979). The Division attorney does not
It is thus obvious that the assistance provided a complainant by the Division attorney is not fully adequate, and that the attorney has no obligation to the complainant as a client. In fact, at times the position of the Division may be detrimental to the interests of the complainant and to enforcement of federal rights. Representation by a private attorney thus assures development of a complete factual record at the investigative stage and at the administrative hearing. At both, settlement is possible and is encouraged. A Division employee cannot act as the complainant's attorney for purposes of advising him whether to accept a settlement. Retention of private counsel will help assure that federal rights are not compromised in the conciliation process.
If a Division attorney appears at the public hearing, he does not represent the interests of the complainant, but rather those of the State. Id., at 5; App. to Pet. for Cert. A59-A60. He presents the "case in support of the complaint," not in support of the complainant. N. Y. Exec. Law § 297 (4) (a) (McKinney Supp. 1979). Upon appeal, the Division attorney is authorized only to support the order entered by the Division or the Appeal Board. Without doubt, the private attorney has an important role to play in preserving and protecting federal rights and interests during the state proceedings.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore affirmed.
It is so ordered.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins the Court's opinion except footnote 6 thereof; in his view, resolution of the issue dealt with in that footnote is not necessary.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST would reverse the judgment essentially for the reasons given by Judge Mulligan in dissenting from the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, concurring in the judgment.
While I agree with most of what is said in the Court's opinion, it is useful to emphasize that this federal litigation was commenced in order to obtain relief for respondent on the merits of her basic dispute with petitioners, and not simply to recover attorney's fees. Whether Congress intended to authorize a separate federal action solely to recover costs, including attorney's fees, incurred in obtaining administrative relief in either a deferral or a nondeferral State is not only doubtful but is a question that is plainly not presented by this record.
A quite different question would be presented if, before any federal litigation were commenced, an aggrieved-party had obtained complete relief in the administrative proceedings. It is by no means clear that the statute, which merely empowers a "court" to award fees, would authorize a fee allowance when there is no need for litigation in the federal court to resolve the merits of the underlying dispute. Indeed, it is not even clear that the EEOC has the authority to issue a "right to sue" letter, empowering the complainant to bring suit in federal court, after the complainant has obtained complete relief on the merits of his claim in administrative proceedings. See § 706 (f) (1) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (f) (1). In any event, the facts of this case present no occasion for the Court's resolution of the issue, ante, at 66. All that needs to be decided is whether an allowance of fees may properly cover the work
Accordingly, I concur in the judgment.
"In any action or proceeding under this title the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs. . . ."