Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. Co., Inc.
414 U.S. 86 (1973)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. Co., Inc., 414 U.S. 86 (1973)

Espinoza v. Farah Manufacturing Co., Inc.

No. 72-671

Argued October 10-11, 1973

Decided November 19, 1973

414 U.S. 86

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners, Mr. and Mrs. Espinoza, brought suit after exhausting their administrative remedies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that respondent's refusal to hire Mrs. Espinoza in its San Antonio division because of her Mexican citizenship violated § 703 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The District Court granted petitioners' motion for summary judgment, relying primarily on an EEOC guideline providing that a lawful alien resident may not be discriminated against on the basis of citizenship. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: An employer's refusal to hire a person because he is not a United States citizen does not constitute employment discrimination on the basis of "national origin" in violation of § 703. Pp. 414 U. S. 88-96.

(a) In light of the statute's legislative history and the longstanding practice of requiring federal employees to be United States citizens, it is clear that Congress did not intend the term "national origin" to embrace citizenship requirements. Pp. 414 U. S. 88-91.

(b) The EEOC's guideline, though perhaps significant in a wide range of other situations, does not apply here or support the premise that discrimination on the basis of citizenship is tantamount to discrimination on the basis of national origin, since there is no showing that respondent (96% of whose San Antonio division employees are Mexican-Americans) discriminated against persons of Mexican origin. Pp. 414 U. S. 92-95.

(c) Though the Act protects aliens against illegal discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, it does not proscribe discrimination on the basis of alienage. P. 414 U. S. 95.

462 F.2d 1331, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which

Page 414 U. S. 87

BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 414 U. S. 96.

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves interpretation of the phrase "national origin" in Tit. VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Petitioner Cecilia Espinoza is a lawfully admitted resident alien who was born in and remains a citizen of Mexico. She resides in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, Rudolfo Espinoza, a United States citizen. In July, 1969, Mrs. Espinoza sought employment as a seamstress at the San Antonio division of respondent Farah Manufacturing Co. Her employment application was rejected on the basis of a longstanding company policy against the employment of aliens. After exhausting their administrative remedies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, [Footnote 1] petitioners commenced this suit in the District Court, alleging that respondent had discriminated against Mrs. Espinoza because of her "national origin" in violation of § 703 of Tit. VII, 78 Stat. 255, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The District Court granted petitioners' motion for summary judgment, holding

Page 414 U. S. 88

that a refusal to hire because of lack of citizenship constitutes discrimination on the basis of "national origin." 343 F.Supp. 1205. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the statutory phrase "national origin" did not embrace citizenship. 462 F.2d 1331. We granted the writ to resolve this question of statutory construction, 411 U.S. 946, and now affirm.

Section 703 makes it

"an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire . . . any individual . . . because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."

Certainly the plain language of the statute supports the result reached by the Court of Appeals. The term "national origin," on its face, refers to the country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came. [Footnote 2]

The statute's legislative history, though quite meager

Page 414 U. S. 89

in this respect, fully supports this construction. The only direct definition given the phrase "national origin" is the following remark made on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congressman Roosevelt, Chairman of the House Subcommittee which reported the bill:

"It means the country from which you or your forebears came. . . . You may come from Poland, Czechoslovakia, England, France, or any other country."

110 Cong.Rec. 2549 (1964). We also note that an earlier version of § 703 had referred to discrimination because of "race, color, religion, national origin, or ancestry." H.R. 7152, 88th Cong., 1st Sess., § 804, Oct. 2, 1963 (Comm. print) (emphasis added). The deletion of the word "ancestry" from the final version was not intended as a material change, see H.R.Rep. No. 914, 88th Cong., 1st Sess., 87 (1963), suggesting that the terms "national origin" and "ancestry" were considered synonymous.

There are other compelling reasons to believe that Congress did not intend the term "national origin" to embrace citizenship requirements. Since 1914, the Federal Government itself, through Civil Service Commission regulations, has engaged in what amounts to discrimination against aliens by denying them the right to enter competitive examination for federal employment. Exec.Order No.1997, H.R.Doc. No. 1258, 63d Cong., 3d Sess., 118 (1914); see 5 U.S.C. § 3301; 5 CFR § 338.101 (1972). But it has never been suggested that the citizenship requirement for federal employment constitutes discrimination because of national origin, even though, since 1943, various Executive Orders have expressly prohibited discrimination on the basis of national origin in Federal Government employment. See, e.g., Exec.Order No. 9346, 3 CFR 1280 (Cum.Supp. 1938-1943); Exec.Order No. 11478, 3 CFR 446 (1970).

Page 414 U. S. 90

Moreover, § 701(b) of Tit. VII, in language closely paralleling § 703, makes it

"the policy of the United States to insure equal employment opportunities for Federal employees without discrimination because of . . . national origin. . . ."

Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pub.L. 88-352, § 701(b), 78 Stat. 254, reenacted, Pub.L. 89554, 80 Stat. 523, 5 U.S.C. § 7151. The legislative history of that section reveals no mention of any intent on Congress' part to reverse the longstanding practice of requiring federal employees to be United States citizens. To the contrary, there is every indication that no such reversal was intended. Congress itself has on several occasions since 1964 enacted statutes barring aliens from federal employment. The Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriation Act, 1973, for example, provides that

"no part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used to pay the compensation of any officer or employee of the Government of the United States . . . unless such person (1) is a citizen of the United States. . . . [Footnote 3]"

Pub.L. 92-351, § 602, 86 Stat. 487. See also Pub.L. 91-144, § 502, 83 Stat. 336; Pub.L. 91-439, § 502, 84 Stat. 902.

To interpret the term "national origin" to embrace citizenship requirements would require us to conclude that Congress itself has repeatedly flouted its own declaration of policy. This Court cannot lightly find

Page 414 U. S. 91

such a breach of faith. See Bate Refrigerating Co. v. Sulzberger,157 U. S. 1, 157 U. S. 38 (1895). So far as federal employment is concerned, we think it plain that Congress has assumed that the ban on national origin discrimination in § 701(b) did not affect the historical practice of requiring citizenship as a condition of employment. See First National Bank v. Missouri,263 U. S. 640, 263 U. S. 658 (1924). And there is no reason to believe Congress intended the term "national origin" in § 703 to have any broader scope. Cf. King v. Smith,392 U. S. 309,3 392 U. S. 30-331 (1968).

Petitioners have suggested that the statutes and regulations discriminating against noncitizens in federal employment are unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. We need not address that question here, [Footnote 4] for the issue presented in this case is not whether Congress has the power to discriminate against aliens in federal employment, but rather, whether Congress intended to prohibit such discrimination in private employment. Suffice it to say that we cannot conclude Congress would at once continue the practice of requiring citizenship as a condition of federal employment and, at the same time, prevent private employers from doing likewise. Interpreting § 703 as petitioners suggest would achieve the rather bizarre result of preventing Farah from insisting on United States citizenship as a condition of employment while the very agency charged with enforcement of Tit. VII would itself be required by Congress to place such a condition on its own personnel.

Page 414 U. S. 92

The District Court drew primary support for its holding from an interpretative guideline issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which provides:

"Because discrimination on the basis of citizenship has the effect of discriminating on the basis of national origin, a lawfully immigrated alien who is domiciled or residing in this country may not be discriminated against on the basis of his citizenship. . . ."

29 CFR § 1606.1(d) (1972). Like the Court of Appeals, we have no occasion here to question the general validity of this guideline insofar as it can be read as an expression of the Commission's belief that there may be many situations where discrimination on the basis of citizenship would have the effect of discriminating on the basis of national origin. In some instances, for example, a citizenship requirement might be but one part of a wider scheme of unlawful national origin discrimination. In other cases, an employer might use a citizenship test as a pretext to disguise what is, in fact, national origin discrimination. Certainly Tit. VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of citizenship whenever it has the purpose or effect of discriminating on the basis of national origin. "The Act proscribes not only overt discrimination, but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation." Griggs v. Duke Power Co.,401 U. S. 424, 401 U. S. 431 (1971).

It is equally clear, however, that these principles lend no support to petitioners in this case. There is no indication in the record that Farah's policy against employment of aliens had the purpose or effect of discriminating against persons of Mexican national origin. [Footnote 5] It is conceded

Page 414 U. S. 93

that Farah accepts employees of Mexican origin, provided the individual concerned has become an American citizen. Indeed, the District Court found that persons of Mexican ancestry make up more than 96% of the employees at the company's San Antonio division, and 97% of those doing the work for which Mrs. Espinoza applied. While statistics such as these do not automatically shield an employer from a charge of unlawful discrimination, the plain fact of the matter is that Farah does not discriminate against persons of Mexican national origin with respect to employment in the job Mrs. Espinoza sought. She was denied employment not because of the country of her origin, but because she had not yet achieved United States citizenship. In fact, the record shows that the worker hired in place of Mrs. Espinoza was a citizen with a Spanish surname.

The Commission's guideline may have significance for a wide range of situations, but not for a case such as this where its very premise -- that discrimination on the basis of citizenship has the effect of discrimination on the basis of national origin -- is not borne out. [Footnote 6] It is

Page 414 U. S. 94

also significant to note that the Commission itself once held a different view as to the meaning of the phrase "national origin." When first confronted with the question, the Commission, through its General Counsel, said:

"'National origin' refers to the country from which the individual or his forebears came . . . , not to whether or not he is a United States citizen. . . .'"

EEOC General Counsel's Opinion Letter, 1 CCH Employment Prac. Guide

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