Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Arabian American Oil Company

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Court Documents
Concurring Opinion
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

499 U.S. 244

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  v.  Arabian American Oil Company

No. Nos 89-1838, 89-1845  Argued: Jan. 16, 1991. --- Decided: March 26, 1991


Petitioner Boureslan, a naturalized United States citizen born in Lebanon and working in Saudi Arabia, was discharged by his employer, respondent Arabian American Oil Company, a Delaware corporation. After filing a charge with petitioner Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), he instituted suit in the District Court, seeking relief under, inter alia, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the ground that he had been discriminated against because of his race, religion, and national origin. In dismissing this claim, the court ruled that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because Title VII's protections do not extend to United States citizens employed abroad by American employers. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Title VII does not apply extraterritorially to regulate the employment practices of United States firms that employ American citizens abroad. Petitioners' evidence, while not totally lacking in probative value, falls short of demonstrating the clearly expressed affirmative congressional intent that is required to overcome the well-established presumption against statutory extraterritoriality. Pp. 248-259.

(a) Petitioners argue unpersuasively that Title VII's "broad jurisdictional language"-which extends the Act's protections to commerce "between a State and any place outside thereof"-evinces a clear intent to legislate extraterritorially. The language relied on is ambiguous, does not speak directly to the question presented here, and constitutes boilerplate language found in any number of congressional Acts, none of which have been held to apply overseas. Petitioners' argument also finds no support in this Court's decisions, which have repeatedly held that even statutes containing broad language in their definitions of "commerce" that expressly refer to "foreign commerce" do not apply abroad. See, e.g., McCulloch v. Sociedad Nacional de Marineros de Honduras, 372 U.S. 10, 15, 19, 83 S.Ct. 671, 674, 676, 9 L.Ed.2d 547. Steele v. Bulova Watch Co., 344 U.S. 280, 286, 73 S.Ct. 252, 255, 97 L.Ed. 319, distinguished. Pp. 249-253.

(b) Petitioners also argue unpersuasively that Title VII's "alien exemption" clause-which renders the statute inapplicable "to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State"-clearly manifests the necessary congressional intent to cover employers of United States citizens working abroad. If petitioners were correct, there would be no statutory basis for distinguishing between American employers and foreign employers. Absent clearer evidence of congressional intent, this Court is unwilling to ascribe to Congress a policy which would raise difficult international law issues by imposing this country's employment-discrimination regime upon foreign corporations operating in foreign commerce. This conclusion is fortified by other factors suggesting a purely domestic focus, including Title VII's failure even to mention foreign nations or proceedings despite a number of provisions indicating a concern that the sovereignty and laws of States not be unduly interfered with, and the Act's failure to provide any mechanisms for its overseas enforcement. It is also reasonable to conclude that had Congress intended Title VII to apply overseas, it would have addressed the subject of conflicts with foreign laws and procedures, as it did in amending the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) to apply abroad. Pp. 253-256.

(c) Petitioners' contention that this Court should defer to the EEOC's position that Title VII applies abroad is rejected. The EEOC's interpretation does not fare well under the deference standards set forth in General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 140-146, 97 S.Ct. 401, 410-413, 50 L.Ed.2d 343, since the interpretation has been neither contemporaneous with Title VII's enactment nor consistent with an earlier, contrary position enunciated by the EEOC closer to the date the statute came into law, since the EEOC offers no basis in its experience for the change, and since the interpretation lacks support in the statute's plain language. Although this Court does not wholly discount the interpretation, it is of insufficient weight, even when considered in combination with petitioners' other arguments, to overcome the presumption against extraterritorial application. Pp. 256-258.

(d) Congress' awareness of the need to make a clear statement that a statute applies overseas is amply demonstrated by the numerous occasions on which it has legislated extraterritoriality, including its amendment of the ADEA. Congress may similarly amend Title VII and in doing so will be able to calibrate its provisions in a way that this Court cannot. Pp. 258-259.

892 F.2d 1271 (CA 5 1990), affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed anopin ion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. ----. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. ----.

Sol. Gen. Kenneth W. Starr, Washington, D.C., for petitioners in both cases.

Paul L. Friedman, Washington, D.C., for respondents.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).