MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issue in this case is whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may seek classwide relief under § 706 (f) (1) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) without being certified as the class representative under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that certification was not required. 599 F.2d 322 (1979). Because this is a recurring issue on which the federal courts are divided,
Four employees of General Telephone Company of the Northwest, Inc. (General Telephone), filed charges with the EEOC complaining of sex discrimination in employment. After investigation, the EEOC found reasonable cause to suspect discrimination against women, and in April 1977 brought suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington under § 706 (f) (1) of Title VII, as amended, § 4, 86 Stat. 105, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5
The complaint did not mention Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23,
We agree with the Court of Appeals that Rule 23 is not applicable to an enforcement action brought by the EEOC in its own name and pursuant to its authority under § 706 to prevent unlawful employment practices.
Title VII protects all employees of and applicants for employment with a covered employer, employment agency, labor organization, or training program against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Section 706 (a) empowers the EEOC "to prevent any person from engaging in any unlawful . . . Practice" as set forth in the Title. Section
Title VII thus itself authorizes the procedure that the EEOC followed in this case. Upon finding reasonable cause to believe that General Telephone had discriminated against female employees, the EEOC filed suit seeking a permanent injunction against the discriminatory practices, remedial action to eradicate the effect of past discrimination, and "make whole" backpay, with interest, for persons adversely affected by the unlawful practices. Given the clear purpose of Title VII, the EEOC's jurisdiction over enforcement, and the remedies available, the EEOC need look no further than § 706 for its authority to bring suit in its own name for the purpose, among others, of securing relief for a group of aggrieved individuals. Its authority to bring such actions is in no way dependent upon Rule 23, and the Rule has no application to a § 706 suit.
Of course, Title VII defendants do not welcome the prospect of backpay liability; but the law provides for such liability and the EEOC's authority to sue for it. Moreover, the EEOC here requested relief only on behalf of "those persons adversely affected" and "in an amount to be proved at trial." App. 11. There is no claim or suggestion of unjustified, windfall backpay awards. That backpay relief is authorized is no basis for imposing the Rule 23 framework in an EEOC enforcement action. We do no more than follow a straight-forward reading of the statute, which seems to us to authorize the EEOC to sue in its own name to enforce federal law by
This understanding of the statute is supported by the purpose of the 1972 amendments of providing the EEOC with enforcement authority. The purpose of the amendments, plainly enough, was to secure more effective enforcement of Title VII. As Title VII was originally enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC's role in eliminating unlawful employment practices was limited to "informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion." Civil actions for enforcement upon the EEOC's inability to secure voluntary compliance could be filed only by the aggrieved person. § 706 (e), 78 Stat. 260. Congress became convinced, however, that the "failure to grant the EEOC meaningful enforcement powers has proven to be a major flaw in the operation of Title VII."
Prior to 1972, the only civil actions authorized other than private lawsuits were actions by the Attorney General upon reasonable cause to suspect "a pattern or practice" of discrimination. These actions did not depend upon the filing of a charge with the EEOC; nor were they designed merely to advance the personal interest of any particular aggrieved person. Prior to 1972, the Department of Justice filed numerous § 707 pattern-or-practice suits. 118 Cong. Rec. 4080 (1972) (remarks of Sen. Williams). In none was it ever suggested that the Attorney General sued in a representative capacity or that his enforcement suit must comply with the requirements of Rule 23;
It is also apparent that forcing EEOC civil actions into the Rule 23 model would in many cases distort the Rule as it is
Rule 23 (a), see n. 3, supra, imposes the prerequisites of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation. When considered in the light of these requirements, it is clear that the Rule was not designed to apply to EEOC actions brought in its own name for the enforcement of federal law. Some of the obvious and more severe problems are worth nothing.
The numerosity requirement requires examination of the specific facts of each case and imposes no absolute limitations. Title VII, however, applies to employers with as few as 15 employees. When judged by the size of the putative class in various cases in which certification has been denied, this minimum would be too small to meet the numerosity requirement.
The typicality requirement is said to limit the class claims to those fairly encompassed by the named plaintiff's claims. If Rule 23 were applicable to EEOC enforcement actions, it would
We note finally that the adequate-representation requirement is typically construed to foreclose the class action where there is a conflict of interest between the named plaintiff and the members of the putative class. In employment discrimination litigation, conflicts might arise, for example, between employees and applicants who were denied employment and who will, if granted relief, compete with employees for fringe benefits or seniority. Under Rule 23, the same plaintiff could not represent these classes. But unlike the Rule 23 class representative, the EEOC is authorized to proceed in a unified action and to obtain the most satisfactory overall relief even though competing interests are involved and particular groups may appear to be disadvantaged. The individual victim is given his right to intervene for this very reason. The EEOC exists to advance the public interest in preventing and remedying employment discrimination, and it does so in part by making the hard choices where conflicts of interest exist. We are reluctant, absent clear congressional guidance, to subject § 706 (f) (1) actions to requirements that might disable the enforcement agency from advancing the public interest in the manner and to the extent contemplated by the statute.
We observe that General Telephone does not urge application of Rule 23 to EEOC enforcement actions in the expectation or hope that the agency could not comply and would be forced to drop its action against General Telephone. Indeed, petitioners urge that the EEOC, in proper cases, would be able to meet the Rule 23 requirements. Brief for Petitioners 16-22. As we understand, petitioners' objective in seeking to invoke Rule 23 is aimed at securing a judgment in the EEOC's suit that will be binding upon all individuals with similar grievances in the class or subclasses that might be certified. We are sensitive to the importance of the res judicata aspects of Rule 23 judgments, but we are not free to depart from what we believe the statutory design to be.
We have noted in a related context the interface between employment discrimination remedies under a collective-bargaining agreement and those under Title VII. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36 (1974), held that the employee did not forfeit Title VII relief by invoking the grievance and arbitration procedures under the collective-bargaining contract. We noted that "federal courts have been assigned plenary powers to secure compliance with Title VII." Id., at 45. Similarly, the courts retain remedial powers under Title VII despite a finding by the EEOC of no reasonable cause to believe that Title VII has been violated. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 798-799 (1973). We have also stressed the strong congressional intent to provide "make whole" relief to Title VII claimants: "'The provisions of this subsection are intended to give the courts wide discretion exercising their equitable powers to fashion the most complete relief possible. . . .' 118 Cong. Rec. 7168 (1972)." Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 421 (1975).
The 1972 amendments retained the private right of action as "an essential means of obtaining judicial enforcement of
The courts, however, are not powerless to prevent undue hardship to the defendant and should perform accordingly. The employer may, by discovery and other pretrial proceedings, determine the nature and extent of the claims that the EEOC intends to pursue against it. Here, as we have noted, the EEOC moved to try initially the issue of liability, not to avoid proving individual claims, but merely to postpone such proof. It also goes without saying that the courts can and should preclude double recovery by an individual. Cf. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., supra, at 51, n. 14. Also, where the EEOC has prevailed in its action, the court may reasonably require any individual who claims under its judgment to relinquish his right to bring a separate private action.
We hold, therefore, that the EEOC may maintain its § 706 civil actions for the enforcement of Title VII and may seek specific relief for a group of aggrieved individuals without first obtaining class certification pursuant to Federal Rule
THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE POWELL, MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, and MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, for the reasons that are well stated by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in EEOC v. D. H. Holmes Co., Ltd., 556 F.2d 787 (1977), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 962 (1978), would reverse the judgment in this case.
Barry L. Goldstein and Jack Greenberg filed a brief for the N. A. A. C. P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., as amicus curiae urging affirmance.
"If within thirty days after a charge is filed with the Commission . . . , the Commission has been unable to secure from the respondent a conciliation agreement acceptable to the Commission, the Commission may bring a civil action against any respondent not a government, governmental agency, or political subdivision named in the charge. . . . The person or persons aggrieved shall have the right to intervene in a civil action brought by the Commission . . . . If a charge filed with the Commission pursuant to subsection (b) is dismissed by the Commission, or if within one hundred and eighty days from the filing of such charge or the expiration of any period of reference under subsection (c) or (d), whichever is later, the Commission has not filed a civil action under this section . . . or the Commission has not entered into a conciliation agreement to which the person aggrieved is a party, the Commission . . . shall so notify the person aggrieved and within ninety days after the giving of such notice a civil action may be brought against the respondent named in the charge (A) by the person claiming to be aggrieved or (B) if such charge was filed by a member of the Commission, by any person whom the charge alleges was aggrieved by the alleged unlawful employment practice."
"(a) Prerequisites to a Class Action.
One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all only if (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
"(b) Class Actions Maintainable.
An action may be maintained as a class action if the prerequisites of subdivision (a) are satisfied, and in addition:
"(1) the prosecution of separate actions by or against individual members of the class would create a risk of
"(A) inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class, or
"(B) adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would as a practical matter be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the adjudications or substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests; or
"(2) the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class, thereby making appropriate final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole; or
"(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy. The matters pertinent to the findings include: (A) the interest of members of the class in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions: (B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already commenced by or against members of the class; (C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum: (D) the difficulties likely to be encountered in the management of a class action."
The union also did not join in General Telephone's petition for certiorari and is, therefore, a respondent in this Court. See this Court's Rule 21 (4).
"The most striking deficiency of the 1964 Act is that the EEOC does not have the authority to issue judicially enforceable orders to back up its findings of discrimination. . . .
"As a consequence, unless the Department of Justice concludes that a pattern or practice of resistance to Title VII is involved, the burden of obtaining enforceable relief rests upon each individual victim of discrimination, who must go into court as a private party, with the delay and expense that entails, in order to secure the rights promised him under the law." S. Rep. No. 92-415, p. 4 (1971).
The Senate Committee contemplated EEOC enforcement through an administrative proceeding followed by a cease-and-desist order with review in the appropriate United States court of appeals. Although a floor amendment changed the procedure to a civil suit in the district court, the policy remained the same.
"If, for any reason, EEOC is not certified below but still believes a pattern or practice of discrimination exists in the Holmes Company, its recourse is to file a suit under § 707. . . ." 556 F. 2d, at 792, n. 8.
Since 1972, backpay has also been awarded in pattern-or-practice suits, and without suggestion that Rule 23 is implicated. E. g., EEOC v. Detroit Edison Co., 515 F.2d 301, 314-315 (CA6 1975); United States v. Georgia Power Co., 474 F.2d 906, 919-920 (CA5 1973); cf. United States v. N. L. Industries, Inc., 479 F.2d 354, 378-380 (CA8 1973). And we see nothing to indicate that prior to 1972, in cases where backpay was requested and denied, the result rested on the ground that the Government could not obtain individual relief in its enforcement action without compliance with Rule 23. See, e. g., United States v. St. Louis-S. F. R. Co., supra, at 311; United States v. Hayes Int'l Corp., 456 F.2d 112, 121 (CA5 1972).
"I have referred to the rules of civil procedure. I now refer specifically to rule 23 of those rules, which is entitled Class Actions and which give[s] the opportunity to engage in the Federal Court in class actions by properly suing parties. We ourselves have given permission to the EEOC to be a properly suing party." 118 Cong. Rec. 4082 (1972).
Again, given the context, the point that emerges most clearly is that the Senator's comments merely compare the effect of the amendments to § 706 with the Rule 23 procedure; the comments were not intended to impose the requirements of the Rule on the § 706 action. Indeed, the idea that the EEOC's enforcement suits were to be subject to the full range of Rule 23 requirements is completely inconsistent with the Senator's own comparisons, noted in text, between the EEOC's authority under § 706 as amended and the authority of the Department of Justice under the original version of § 707.