McKAY, Circuit Judge.
On December 12, 1975, Edward J. Cavaliere was discharged by his employer, appellee Intermountain Electric Company (Intermountain). Approximately seven days later Cavaliere filed a complaint with the Secretary of Labor, claiming that he had been unlawfully discharged for filing safety-related complaints with his employer. On February 8, 1978, nearly 26 months after Cavaliere's discharge, the Secretary filed a complaint against Intermountain, alleging a violation of § 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), 29 U.S.C. § 660(c). The Secretary's suit sought an injunction against future violations of § 11(c) and other relief, including reinstatement and backpay for Cavaliere.
The district court granted Intermountain's motion to dismiss on the ground that the action was barred by Colorado's two-year statute of limitations for federal causes of action.
The OSH Act contains no explicit limitations period for actions brought under § 11(c).
Nothing in the OSH Act itself suggests a congressional intention to adopt state statutes of limitations. The primary purpose of the OSH Act is to assure safe and healthful working conditions for workers. Section 11(c) is designed to further that public policy. Its primary purpose is to ensure that violations of the OSH Act are reported, rather than to vindicate private interests. Cf. NLRB v. Scrivener, 405 U.S. 117, 121-22, 92 S.Ct. 798, 31 L.Ed.2d 79 (1972); Mitchell v. Robert DeMario Jewelry, Inc., 361 U.S. 288, 292-93, 80 S.Ct. 332, 4 L.Ed.2d 323 (1960). Nevertheless, by allowing for reinstatement, backpay and other relief, the Act also serves to protect individual rights.
Prior to the Supreme Court decision in Occidental Life Insurance Co. v. EEOC, 432 U.S. 355, 97 S.Ct. 2447, 53 L.Ed.2d 402 (1977), it was not clear what effect a state limitations statute would have on an action brought primarily to vindicate public rights, but where the primary immediate effect would be relief for private individuals. In Occidental an employee had been discharged, allegedly in violation of provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Clearly, an action brought by the Secretary of Labor pursuant to § 11(c) of the OSH Act, like the Title VII suit brought by the EEOC in Occidental, serves to vindicate important federal as well as private interests.
Although the Court in Occidental put great emphasis on the legislative history of the Title VII enforcement provisions, we believe that case effectively fashioned a new rule to deal with actions brought by the federal government to vindicate combinations of private and public interests: When an action is brought by the government to enforce private as well as public rights, state statutes of limitations do not apply to bar the action even though no federal period of limitations is provided. However, unlike the rule relating to actions brought exclusively for the benefit of the federal government,
In this case, suit was brought by a federal agency to vindicate important public interests. Accordingly, no state statute of limitations may bar the suit. Intermountain does not assert a theory of laches or prejudice. Because the trial court inappropriately applied a Colorado statute of limitations to this § 11(c) action by the Secretary of Labor, the order of dismissal is reversed.
29 U.S.C. § 660(c).