WEST v. GIBSON

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
98-238
Petitioner 
West
Respondent 
Gibson
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
(Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner)
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Facts of the Case 

In 1991, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to permit victims of intentional employment discrimination, whether within the private sector or the federal government, to recover compensatory damages. Thereafter, Michael Gibson filed a complaint with the Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging that the Department had discriminated against him by denying him a promotion on the basis of his gender. The Department found against Gibson. Afterwards, however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) awarded Gibson the promotion plus backpay. Later Gibson filed suit, in the District Court, seeking compensatory damages and a court order for the Department to comply with the EEOC's order. Subsequently, the Department voluntarily complied with the EEOC's order, but it opposed Gibson's claim for compensatory damages. Ultimately, the District Court dismissed Gibson's complaint. On appeal, the Department supported the District Court's dismissal with the argument that Gibson had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in respect to his compensatory damages claim; therefore, he could not bring that claim in court. In reversing, the Court of Appeals rejected the Department's argument. The court viewed the EEOC as lacking the legal power necessary to award compensatory damages. Consequently, there was no administrative remedy to exhaust.

Question 

Does the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission possess the legal authority to require federal agencies to pay compensatory damages when they discriminate in employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for West, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII

Yes. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the Court held that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission possess the legal authority to require federal agencies to pay compensatory damages when they discriminate in violation of Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the dissenting minority, expressed the view that that the EEOC could not have awarded compensatory damages against the United States under Title VII because the statute did not authorize such awards in explicit terms. Therefore, according to Justice Kennedy, it did not provide the required waiver of the United States' sovereign immunity.

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WEST v. GIBSON. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 12 December 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1998/1998_98_238>.
WEST v. GIBSON, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1998/1998_98_238 (last visited December 12, 2014).
"WEST v. GIBSON," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed December 12, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1998/1998_98_238.