JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.
In the particular context of this case we must decide whether federal law pre-empts a state-law cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit is brought by an employee of a nuclear-fuels production facility against her employer and arises out of actions by the employer allegedly taken in retaliation for the employee's nuclear-safety complaints.
Petitioner Vera M. English was employed from 1972 to 1984 as a laboratory technician at the nuclear-fuels production facility operated by respondent General Electric Company (GE) in Wilmington, N. C. In February 1984, petitioner complained to GE's management and to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about several perceived violations of nuclear-safety standards at the facility, including
Frustrated by the company's failure to address her concerns, petitioner on one occasion deliberately failed to clean a work table contaminated with a uranium solution during a preceding shift. Instead, she outlined the contaminated areas with red tape so as to make them conspicuous. A few days later, petitioner called her supervisor's attention to the marked-off areas, which still had not been cleaned. As a result, work was halted while the laboratory was inspected and cleaned.
Shortly after this episode, GE charged petitioner with a knowing failure to clean up radioactive contamination and temporarily assigned her to other work. On April 30, 1984, GE's management informed petitioner that she would be laid off unless, within 90 days, she successfully bid for a position in an area of the facility where she would not be exposed to nuclear materials. On May 15, petitioner was notified of the company's final decision affirming the disciplinary action taken against her. Petitioner did not find another position by July 30, and her employment was terminated.
In August, petitioner filed a complaint with the Secretary of Labor charging GE with violating § 210(a) of the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, as added, 92 Stat. 2951, 42 U. S. C. § 5851(a) (1982 ed.), which makes it unlawful for an employer in the nuclear industry to
In her charge, petitioner alleged that GE's actions constituted unlawful employment discrimination in retaliation for her nuclear-safety complaints to GE's management and to the NRC. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to whom the matter was referred found that GE had violated § 210(a) when it transferred and then discharged petitioner. The Secretary, however, dismissed the complaint as untimely because it had not been filed, as required by § 210(b)(1), within 30 days after the May 15 notice of the company's final decision.
Although the District Court concluded that petitioner had stated a valid claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under North Carolina law, it nonetheless granted GE's motion to dismiss. 683 F.Supp. 1006, 1017-1018 (1988). The court did not accept GE's argument that petitioner's claim fell within the field of nuclear safety, a field that, according to GE, had been completely pre-empted by the Federal Government. The court held, however, that petitioner's claim was pre-empted because it conflicted with three particular aspects of § 210: (1) a provision that bars recovery under the section to any employee who "deliberately causes a violation of any requirement of [the Energy Reorganization
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of petitioner's emotional distress claim on the basis of the District Court's reasoning. 871 F.2d 22, 23 (1989). That court concluded that Congress had intended to foreclose nuclear whistle-blowers from pursuing state tort remedies and stated its belief that the District Court "correctly identified and applied the relevant federal and state law." Id., at 23. Because of an apparent conflict with a decision of the First Circuit, see Norris v. Lumbermen's Mutual Casualty Co., 881 F.2d 1144 (1989), we granted certiorari. 493 U.S. 1055 (1990).
The sole question for our resolution is whether the Federal Government has pre-empted petitioner's state-law tort claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Our cases have established that state law is pre-empted under the Supremacy Clause, U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2, in three circumstances. First, Congress can define explicitly the extent to which its enactments pre-empt state law. See Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S. 85, 95-98 (1983). Preemption
Second, in the absence of explicit statutory language, state law is pre-empted where it regulates conduct in a field that Congress intended the Federal Government to occupy exclusively. Such an intent may be inferred from a "scheme of federal regulation . . . so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it," or where an Act of Congress "touch[es] a field in which the federal interest is so dominant that the federal system will be assumed to preclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject." Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218, 230 (1947). Although this Court has not hesitated to draw an inference of field pre-emption where it is supported by the federal statutory and regulatory schemes, it has emphasized: "Where . . . the field which Congress is said to have pre-empted" includes areas that have "been traditionally occupied by the States," congressional intent to supersede state laws must be " `clear and manifest.' " Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519, 525 (1977), quoting Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U. S., at 230.
Finally, state law is pre-empted to the extent that it actually conflicts with federal law. Thus, the Court has found pre-emption where it is impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal requirements, see, e. g., Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132, 142-143 (1963), or where state law "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67 (1941). See also Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 747 (1981).
This is not the first case in which the Court has had occasion to consider the extent to which Congress has pre-empted the field of nuclear safety. In Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Comm'n, 461 U.S. 190 (1983), the Court carefully analyzed the congressional enactments relating to the nuclear industry in order to decide whether a California law that conditioned the construction of a nuclear powerplant on a state agency's approval of the plant's nuclear-waste storage and disposal facilities fell within a pre-empted field. Although we need not repeat all of that analysis here, we summarize briefly the Court's discussion of the actions Congress has taken in the nuclear realm and the conclusions it drew from these actions.
Until 1954, the use, control, and ownership of all nuclear technology remained a federal monopoly. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954, 68 Stat. 919, as amended, 42 U. S. C.
In 1959, Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act in order to "clarify the respective responsibilities . . . of the States and the [Federal Government] with respect to the regulation of byproduct, source, and special nuclear materials," 42 U. S. C. § 2021(a)(1) (1982 ed.), and generally to increase the States' role. The 1959 amendments authorized the AEC, by agreements with state governors, to discontinue the Federal Government's regulatory authority over certain nuclear materials under specified conditions. State regulatory programs adopted under the amendment were required to be "coordinated and compatible" with those of the AEC. § 2021(g).
In 1974, Congress passed the Energy Reorganization Act, 88 Stat. 1233, 42 U. S. C. § 5801 et seq. (1982 ed.), which abolished the AEC and transferred its regulatory and licensing authority to the NRC. § 5841(f). The 1974 Act also expanded the number and range of safety responsibilities under the NRC's charge. As was observed in Pacific Gas, the
After reviewing the relevant statutory provisions and legislative history, the Court in Pacific Gas concluded that "the Federal Government has occupied the entire field of nuclear safety concerns, except the limited powers expressly ceded to the States." 461 U. S., at 212. Although we ultimately determined that the California statute at issue there did not fall within the pre-empted field, we made clear our view that Congress intended that only "the Federal Government should regulate the radiological safety aspects involved in the construction and operation of a nuclear plant." Id., at 205. In the present dispute, respondent and petitioner disagree as to whether petitioner's tort action falls within the boundaries of the pre-empted field referred to in Pacific Gas.
Respondent maintains that the pre-empted field of "nuclear safety" is a large one, and that § 210 is an integral part of it. Specifically, respondent contends that because the Federal Government is better able to promote nuclear safety if whistle-blowers pursue the federal remedy, the whole area marked off by § 210 should be considered part of the pre-empted field identified in Pacific Gas. Accordingly, respondent argues that all state-law remedies for conduct that is covered by § 210 are pre-empted by Congress' decision to have the Federal Government exclusively regulate the field of nuclear safety.
Petitioner and the United States as amicus curiae, on their part, contend that petitioner's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is not pre-empted because the
We think both arguments are somewhat wide of the mark. With respect to respondent's contention, we find no "clear and manifest" intent on the part of Congress, in enacting § 210, to pre-empt all state tort laws that traditionally have been available to those persons who, like petitioner, allege outrageous conduct at the hands of an employer. Indeed, acceptance of respondent's argument would require us to conclude that Congress has displaced not only state tort law, which is at issue in this case, but also state criminal law, to the extent that such criminal law is applied to retaliatory conduct occurring at the site of a nuclear employer. For example, if an employer were to retaliate against a nuclear whistle-blower by hiring thugs to assault the employee on the job (conduct literally covered by § 210), respondent's position would imply that the state criminal law prohibiting such conduct is within the pre-empted field. We simply cannot believe that Congress intended that result. Instead, we think the District Court was essentially correct in observing that while § 210 obviously bears some relation to the field of nuclear safety, its "paramount" purpose was the protection of employees.
Because it is clear that the state tort law at issue here is not motivated by safety concerns, the former portion of the field argument is not relevant.
This result is strongly suggested by the decision in Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 464 U.S. 238 (1984). The Court there held that a claim for punitive damages in a state tort action arising out of the escape of plutonium from a federally licensed nuclear facility did not fall within the pre-empted field discussed in Pacific Gas. The Court reached this result notwithstanding the "tension between the conclusion
We now turn to the question whether, as the lower courts concluded, petitioner's claim conflicts with particular aspects of § 210. On its face, the section does no more than grant a federal administrative remedy to employees in one industry against one type of employer discrimination — retaliation for whistle-blowing. Ordinarily, the mere existence of a federal regulatory or enforcement scheme, even one as detailed as § 210, does not by itself imply pre-emption of state remedies. The Court has observed: "Undoubtedly, every subject that merits congressional legislation is, by definition, a subject of national concern. That cannot mean, however, that every federal statute ousts all related state law. . . . Instead, we must look for special features warranting pre-emption." Hillsborough County v. Automated Medical Laboratories, Inc., 471 U.S. 707, 719 (1985). Here, the District Court identified three "special features" of § 210 that it believed were incompatible with petitioner's claim.
The District Court relied first on § 210(g), which provides that "Subsection (a) of this section [the prohibition on employer retaliation] shall not apply" where an employee "deliberately causes a violation of any requirement of this Act or of the Atomic Energy Act." According to the District Court and respondent, this section reflects a congressional desire to preclude all relief, including state remedies, to a whistle-blower who deliberately commits a safety violation referred
In any event, even if the District Court and respondent are correct in concluding that Congress wanted those who deliberately commit nuclear-safety violations, as defined under § 210(g), to be denied all remedies against employer retaliation, this federal interest would be served by pre-empting state law only to the extent that it afforded recovery to such violators. See Norris v. Lumbermen's Mutual Casualty Co., 881 F.2d 1144, 1150 (CA1 1989). In the instant case, the ALJ found that petitioner had not deliberately committed a safety violation within the meaning of § 210(g), App. to Pet. for Cert. 44a, and neither the Secretary nor the lower courts have suggested otherwise. Thus, barring petitioner's tort action would not even serve the federal interest the lower courts and respondent have gleaned from their reading of this section.
The District Court also relied on the absence in § 210 of general authorization for the Secretary to award exemplary damages against employers who engage in retaliatory conduct. The District Court concluded, and respondent now argues, that this absence implies a congressional intent to bar a state action, like petitioner's, that permits such an award.
Finally, we address the District Court's holding that the expeditious timeframes provided by Congress for the processing of § 210 claims reflect a congressional decision that no whistle-blower should be able to recover under any other law after the time for filing under § 210 has expired. The District Court reasoned, and respondent agrees, that if a state-law remedy is available after the time for filing a § 210 complaint has run, a whistle-blower will have less incentive to bring a § 210 complaint. As a result, the argument runs, federal regulatory agencies will remain unaware of some safety violations and retaliatory behavior and will thus be unable to ensure radiological safety at nuclear facilities. We cannot deny that there is some force to this argument, but we
First, many, if not most, retaliatory incidents come about as a response to safety complaints that employees register with federal regulatory agencies. The Federal Government thus is already aware of these safety violations, whether or not the employee invokes the remedial provisions of § 210. Also, we are not so sure as respondent seems to be that employees will forgo their § 210 options and rely solely on state remedies for retaliation. Such a prospect is simply too speculative a basis on which to rest a finding of pre-emption. The Court has observed repeatedly that pre-emption is ordinarily not to be implied absent an "actual conflict." See, e. g., Savage v. Jones, 225 U.S. 501, 533 (1912). The "teaching of this Court's decisions . . . enjoin[s] seeking out conflicts between state and federal regulation where none clearly exists." Huron Portland Cement Co. v. Detroit, 362 U.S. 440, 446 (1960).
We conclude that petitioner's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress does not fall within the pre-empted field of nuclear safety as that field has been defined in prior cases. Nor does it conflict with any particular aspect of § 210. The contrary judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.