West v. Gibson, 527 U.S. 212 (1999)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 98-238. Argued April 26, 1999—Decided June 14, 1999

In 1972, Congress extended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit employment discrimination in the Federal Government, 42 U. S. C. 2000e-16, to authorize the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce that prohibition through "appropriate remedies, including reinstatement or hiring . . . with or without back pay," 2000e-16(b), and to empower courts to entertain an action by a complainant still aggrieved after final agency action, 2000e-16(c). In 1991, Congress again amended Title VII in the Compensatory Damages Amendment (CDA), which, among other things, permits victims of intentional discrimination to recover compensatory damages "[i]n an action . . . under [ 2000e-16]," 1981a(a)(1), and adds that any party in such an action may demand a jury trial, 1981a(c). Thereafter, the EEOC began to grant compensatory damages awards in Federal Government employment discrimination cases. Respondent Gibson filed a complaint charging that the Department of Veterans Affairs had discriminated against him by denying him a promotion on the basis of his gender. The EEOC found in his favor and awarded him the promotion plus backpay. Gibson later filed this suit asking for compensatory damages and other relief, but the District Court dismissed the complaint. The Seventh Circuit reversed, rejecting the Department's argument that, because Gibson had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to an award of compensatory damages, he could not bring that claim in court. In the Seventh Circuit's view, the EEOC lacked the legal power to award compensatory damages; consequently there was no administrative remedy to exhaust.


1. The EEOC possesses the legal authority to require federal agencies to pay compensatory damages when they discriminate in employment in violation of Title VII. Read literally, the language of the 1972 Title VII extension and the CDA is consistent with a grant of that authority. Section 2000e-16(b) empowers the EEOC to enforce 2000e- 16(a) through a "remedy" that is "appropriate." Although 2000e-16(b) explicitly mentions only equitable remedies—reinstatement, hiring, and backpay—the preceding word "including" makes clear that the authori-

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