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Sperling v. United States Robert F. Froehlke Robert F. Hampton

decided: April 18, 1975.

ANTON E. SPERLING, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ROBERT F. FROEHLKE ROBERT F. HAMPTON, CHAIRMAN MAJOR GENERAL HUGH F. FOSTER, JR. MALCOLM R. MAC KENZIE EDWARD M. KRONISCH AND LUDWIG J. ANDOLSEK, AND JAYNE BAKER SPAIN, APPELLEES



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (D.C. Civil Action No. 1403-72).

Van Dusen, Gibbons and Hunter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Gibbons

Opinion OF THE COURT

GIBBONS, Circuit Judge,

This appeal, involving a claim of job discrimination by the federal government, brings before us for the first time important questions concerning the proper construction and application of the civil remedy afforded to federal employees in the district courts by § 717(c) of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, Pub. L. No. 92-261, 86 Stat. 111, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c), amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pub. L. No. 88-352, 78 Stat. 255, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

The Act mandates that all personnel actions affecting employment in the federal government are to be free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,*fn1 and provides the Civil Service Commission with broad remedial authority to insure that this explicit mandate will be carried out. The Act designates the Civil Service Commission as the administrative agency to review the claims of aggrieved federal employees or applicants for federal employment.*fn2 Recognizing that private sector employees dissatisfied with the fact-finding or the conciliation procedures of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Title VII actions are authorized to press their claims in the federal district courts, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)-(k), the Act also provides a civil remedy in the district courts to federal employees dissatisfied with Civil Service Commission (CSC) review of their claims.*fn3

Appellant Anton E. Sperling, a career employee in federal service filed suit in the district court pursuant to § 717(c). He appeals here from an order of the district court which granted the government's motion for summary judgment. Sperling had been employed as a civilian writer by the United States Army Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey (ECOM) since 1957. At ECOM, Sperling served as Executive Vice-President of Lodge 1904 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFL-CIO), and as the union's grievance representative in Equal Employment Opportunity proceedings at the Fort. In that capacity, Sperling, a white man, represented a black ECOM employee in a series of discrimination grievance proceedings from 1965 through 1967. Sperling claims that he was denied a promotion to a GS-13 position in November, 1968, in retaliation for his successful representation, as union grievance delegate, of the black ECOM employee. Sperling pressed his own claim through the administrative process by filing a series of five complaints between March, 1968 and October, 1969, culminating in an adverse decision by the Board of Appeals and Review of the United States Civil Service Commission on July 15, 1972. On August 15, 1972 he filed suit in district court.

Sperling's amended complaint joins as defendants the Secretary of the Army, civilian and military personnel employed by the Department of the Army, the Commissioners of the United States Civil Service Commission, and the United States. The principal relief sought is a retroactive promotion to a GS-13 employment level together with back pay, and all other attendant rights and benefits for that level from December, 1968. Sperling also seeks an award of counsel fees.

Jurisdiction before the district court was alleged pursuant to the Federal question statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331; the Civil Rights Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1343; the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2); the Mandamus Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1361; the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201-02; the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702; the Back Pay Act, 5 U.S.C. § 5596; and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16.

On August 20, 1973, the government moved to dismiss Sperling's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and, alternatively, moved for summary judgment. Sperling opposed the government's motions, and on October 16, 1973, filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. Sperling's position, both before the district court and on appeal, is that the administrative record leaves no fact issue as to a showing of the government's discrimination against him, and hence entitlement to relief. If, however, this court concludes that there is a fact issue as to discrimination, Sperling's position is that he is entitled to a de novo hearing in the district court on that issue. In the alternative, he is agreeable to having the determination made on the administrative agency record without an additional evidentiary hearing. The government's position before the district court, and on appeal, is (1) that the decision of the Board of Appeals of the Civil Service Commission is final; or (2) that if there is any judicial review it is limited to a determination that administrative due process had been afforded; or (3) that if any factual review is permitted it is limited to determining whether substantial evidence in the administrative record as a whole supports the Commission's findings.

The district court concluded that it had jurisdiction under the Tucker Act, but that the scope of judicial review available under that jurisdictional grant was limited to determining whether substantial evidence supported the Commission's findings.*fn4 Alternatively, it held that if the suit was cognizable under § 717(c) of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c), which the government disputed, its scope of review was limited to determining whether administrative due process was afforded by the agency.*fn5

THE 1972 ACT

The Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, Pub. L. No. 92-261, extensively revised the employment discrimination provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.*fn6 The 1972 Act added a new § 717 to Title VII making it clear that the federal government is obligated to insure that all personnel actions be free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, § 717(a); vesting in the United States Civil Service Commission the authority to enforce these prohibitions by appropriate remedies and through its rule-making power, § 717(b); and affording to persons aggrieved, a civil remedy in the district courts, § 717(c).*fn7 The interrelationship of § 717 with existing remedies for public and private employment discrimination, the cross-reference in § 717(d) to other provisions in Title VII,*fn8 and the legislative compromises in Congress which resulted in the present language, coincide to produce an unusually difficult complex of problems in statutory interpretation.

An appropriate starting point is the framework of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As enacted, Title VII did not extend to employment in the federal government,*fn9 but rather afforded a civil remedy in the district courts to victims of discrimination in the private sector once conciliation of their claims had been sought with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).*fn10 However, the EEOC was given no authority to seek judicial enforcement of these conciliation agreements. Absent some means of enforcement, the EEOC, in the eyes of many members of Congress, failed even to come close to achieving the Act's goal of eliminating employment discrimination in the private sector. Those Congressmen advocating a strengthened EEOC pressed for a cease and desist enforcement authority to be vested in the Commission. However, out of compromise, the 1972 Act amending Title VII authorized only judicial enforcement of EEOC orders,*fn11 while preserving the existing civil remedy for an aggrieved private sector employee in the district court.*fn12

Congress, in considering the amendment of Title VII, was also concerned with discrimination in public employment. Although Title VII of the 1964 Act had not been extended to federal employees, a number of other statutory provisions,*fn13 Executive Orders,*fn14 and Civil Service Commission regulations,*fn15 all of which were in force by 1972, had already prohibited discrimination in such employment on account of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. There was, moreover, a longstanding back pay remedy available to federal workers.*fn16 Despite these provisions, the House Committee charged with the responsibility of preparing a revision of Title VII concluded that progress in eliminating discrimination in federal employment had been "far from satisfactory."*fn17 It attributed such lack of progress to structural defects in the procedures which the government regulations established for processing complaints,*fn18 and to a lack of confidence on the part of federal employees in the performance of the Civil Service Commission.*fn19 The principal defect in the prior system was that the very same federal agency charged with a discriminatory act conducted its own conciliation, investigation and until recently, its own adjudication of the claim.*fn20 Appeals from the final decision of an agency to the Civil Service Commission's Board of Appeals and Review, the House Report concluded, rarely resulted in a reversal of an agency decision.*fn21 The House Committee on Education and Labor proposed, in H.R. 1746, to eliminate these deficiencies by vesting enforcement of the prohibition against discrimination in federal employment in the EEOC rather than in the Civil Service Commission, and by affording federal employees the same civil remedies which were afforded to employees in the private sector.*fn22

While the House was considering H.R. 1746, the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare was considering S. 2515, a bill addressed to the same issues. The Senate Report accompanying that bill, while recognizing that progress had been less than satisfactory, was more sanguine about what might be expected from the Civil Service Commission, and proposed to continue the antidiscrimination responsibility vested in the Commission by Executive Order 11478.*fn23 Despite their differences, however, the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, and the House Committee on Education and Labor were of like mind about the need for making a civil remedy in the courts available to federal employees who were dissatisfied with administrative review of their claims.*fn24 The provisions of § 717 with respect to the civil remedy as adopted in the final House and Senate versions are set forth in the margin.*fn25

In contrast to the conciliation provisions of the 1964 private civil remedy in Title VII, the House version would have permitted suits in the district court within thirty days of notice of an agency's disposition of claim. Because the House bill would thus have completely by-passed the appeal remedy before the Civil Service Commission's Board of Appeals and Review,*fn26 the civil remedy in the district court, of necessity, was the same trial de novo as in a private employment discrimination case. However, because the Senate Committee proposed to preserve the antidiscrimination enforcement authority of the Civil Service Commission, the Senate's version of § 717(c) made reference to the appeal remedy available before the Commission.*fn27 The Senate Committee report explains what was intended to be accomplished:

"The bill (section 717(c)) enables the aggrieved Federal employee (or applicant for employment) to file an action in the appropriate U.S. district court after either a final order by his agency or a final order of the Civil Service Commission or an appeal from an agency decision or order in any personnel action in which the issue of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin has been raised by the aggrieved person. It is intended that the employee have the option to go to the appropriate district court or the District Court for the District of Columbia after either the final decision within his agency on his appeal from the personnel action complained of or after an appropriate appeal to the Civil Service Commission or after the elapse of 180 days from the filing of the initial complaint or appeal with the Civil Service Commission." (emphasis supplied)*fn28

Thus in order to meet the substantial objections to the Civil Service Commission remedy, the Senate proposed to give public sector litigants the option of bypassing the Commission and seeking a judicial remedy at the outset. At the same time, those federal employees who had confidence in the Commission could appeal to it, but they would not thereby lose their right to an action in the district court if the Commission's decision was unsatisfactory.

The Conference Committee adopted the Senate's approach,*fn29 and § 717(c) as enacted, is identical in language to S. 2515 to which the Senate Report, quoted above, refers. The Senate Report would appear, then, to be the authoritative expression of Congressional intent. As will be developed hereafter, the option as to remedies which § 717(c) plainly ...


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