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Occidental Life Ins. Co. of California v. EEOC, 432 U.S. 355 (1977)

Occidental Life Insurance Company of California

v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

No. 76-99

Argued April 20, 1977

Decided June 20, 1977

432 U.S. 355


About three years after an employee of petitioner company had first complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that petitioner had discriminated against her because of her sex, and five months after conciliation efforts by the EEOC had failed, the EEOC brought this enforcement action in the District Court for the Central District of California. The court granted petitioner's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the enforcement action was time-barred by § 706(f)(1) of the Act, since the action had not been brought within 180 days of either the formal filing of the charge with the EEOC or the effective date of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972. Alternatively, the court held that the action was subject to and barred by the California one-year statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals reversed. Section 706(f)(1) provides in relevant part:

"If a charge filed with the Commission . . . is dismissed by the Commission, or within one hundred and eighty days from the filing of such charge or the expiration of any period of reference [from a state agency], 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."


1. Section 706(f)(1) imposes no limitation upon the EEOC's power to file suit in federal court. The provision's language and legislative history show that it was intended to enable an aggrieved person unwilling to await the conclusion of extended EEOC proceedings to institute a private lawsuit 180 days after a charge has been filed. Pp. 432 U. S. 358-366.

Page 432 U. S. 356

2. EEOC enforcement actions are not subject to state statutes of limitations. Pp. 432 U. S. 366-372.

(a) Though a congressional intent to apply a local limitations period has been inferred in instances where a federal statute creating a cause of action fails to specify such a period, state limitations periods will not be borrowed if their application would not comport with the federal statute's underlying policies. P. 432 U. S. 367.

(b) Under the procedural structure created by amendments to the Act in 1972, when EEOC was created and given enforcement powers in lieu of the previous voluntary compliance scheme, EEC does not function as a vehicle for conducting litigation on behalf of private parties but is charged with investigating employment discrimination claims and settling them by informal conciliation if possible, and it is required to refrain from suing until it has discharged its administrative responsibilities. Application of a State's limitation period would not thus further the federal policy, and the one-year California bar applied by the District Court could under some circumstances conflict with that policy. Pp. 432 U. S. 367-369.

(c) Congress was well aware of the enormous backlog of EEOC cases, but the concern expressed for the fair operation of the Act focused on the filing of the initial charge with the EEOC, rather than on later limitations on EEOC's power to sue. Pp. 432 U. S. 369-372.

3. The courts do not lack discretionary remedial power if, despite procedural protections accorded a Title VII defendant under the Act, EEOC delay in bringing suit, after conciliation efforts have failed, significantly handicaps the defense. See Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U. S. 405, 422 U. S. 424-425. Pp. 432 U. S. 372-373.

535 F.2d 533, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 432 U. S. 373.

Page 432 U. S. 357

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