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Fekete v. United States Steel Corp.

decided: April 13, 1970.

GYULA FEKETE, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION, APPELLEE



Freedman, Aldisert and Gibbons, Circuit Judges.

Author: Aldisert

ALDISERT, C. J.

This appeal poses the issue whether the district courts may entertain actions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964*fn1 even though the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) has found no reasonable cause to believe the allegations of discrimination.

Appellant, born and reared in Hungary, came to this land in 1956 following the Soviet occupation of that country. He was employed by the United States Steel Corporation in 1964 as a machinist but was dismissed from this job on October 21, 1967. Pursuant to the provisions of Title VII, appellant filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging that his discharge resulted from his employer's discrimination against Americans of Hungarian origin. Following referral of the charge to the Pennsylvania State Human Relations Commission, which rejected the charges, and an investigation of its own, the EEOC concluded that "the evidence does not support the charge. . . . Reasonable cause does not exist to believe that Respondent is in violation of Title VII . . ., as alleged." Appellant then filed this action in the district court, reasserting his charge of discrimination because of ancestral origin.*fn2 On motion of appellee, the court dismissed the suit on the grounds that a Commission finding of no reasonable cause to believe the allegations precludes the district court from entertaining the action.*fn3 We disagree.

The court below based its decision to dismiss on the wording of ยง 2000e-5(a) and (e) of Title VII which outlines the procedures to be employed in the processing of discrimination claims:

(a) Whenever it is charged in writing under oath by a person claiming to be aggrieved . . . that an employer . . . has engaged in an unlawful employment practice, the Commission . . . shall make an investigation of such charge, provided that such charge shall not be made public by the Commission. If the Commission shall determine, after such investigation, that there is reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true, the Commission shall endeavor to eliminate any such alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion . . .

(e) If [after the appropriate time schedule] the Commission has been unable to obtain voluntary compliance with this subchapter, the Commission shall so notify the person aggrieved and a civil action may, within thirty days thereafter, be brought against the respondent named in the charge (1) by the person claiming to be aggrieved . . .

From these portions of Title VII, it becomes apparent that the primary role of the Commission is to seek elimination of unlawful employment practices by informal means leading to voluntary compliance with the Act. Imposed as a condition precedent to such Commission action is the requirement of a finding of "reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true." And where the Commission makes such a finding, attempts to obtain voluntary compliance, and fails, the Act empowers the aggrieved claimant to institute a civil action to compel compliance.

Significantly, there are no provisions in the Act which (1) describe the effect of a Commission finding of no reason to believe or, in such circumstances, (2) define the rights, if any, of a "person claiming to be aggrieved." The absence of such provisions has precipitated the troublesome issue now before us.

The court below concluded, despite this procedural void, that the "plain words of the Act" preclude judicial review of charges which the Commission has rejected. This conclusion could only have been inferred from, rather than directed by, the statutory language. We deem it necessary to examine the Act in its entirety, considering both its legislative history and the perimeters of the problems and issues which prompted its passage.

The journey of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the halls of Congress was marked by lively debate in an atmosphere of intense national interest. At journey's end, however, the Act emerged not as originally proposed or debated, but quilted with amendments. There is a dearth of comment about these changes in the pages of the Congressional Record. Notwithstanding the extensive discussions which preceded its passage, and perhaps because of the divisions of house and thought these discussions revealed, the plain fact seems to be that the give-and-take of the legislative process which spawned this Act compromised it into a "final product containing gaps so that 'the question which is [now] raised on the statute never occurred to [Congress].'"*fn4 In such a situation the task of divining the "legislative intent" rests upon the sound application of judicial principles and precedents.

We begin with the well-established principle, only recently reiterated by the Supreme Court, that "there is no presumption against judicial review and in favor of administrative absolutism (see Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 140, 18 L. Ed. 2d 681, 87 S. Ct. 1507), unless that purpose is fairly discernible in the statutory scheme." Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 25 L. Ed. 2d 184, 90 S. Ct. 827 (1970). "Indeed, judicial review of such administrative action is the rule, and nonreviewability an exception which must be demonstrated." Barlow v. Collins, 397 U.S. 159, 90 S. Ct. 832, 25 L. Ed. 2d 192 (1970).

Prior decisions of other circuits which have interpreted Title VII are consistent with the view we take of reviewability. Of particular note is the Fifth Circuit's holding in Miller v. International Paper Co., 408 F.2d 283 (5 Cir. 1969), where suit was filed in the district court following notification from the EEOC that it was unable to determine whether there was reasonable cause to believe the allegations of discrimination. Reversing the dismissal of the action, the court held:

For whatever reason, if voluntary compliance is not achieved within sixty days after the charging party files his complaint with the EEOC, his right to be notified of the failure vests and, upon receipt of notice, he may file suit in the district court. The action or inaction of the EEOC cannot affect the grievant's substantive rights under the statute. We reiterate the holding in [Dent v. St. Louis-San Francisco Ry. Co., 406 F.2d 399] that an effort to conciliate by the ...


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