Lehman v. Nakshian
453 U.S. 156 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lehman v. Nakshian, 453 U.S. 156 (1981)

Lehman v. Nakshian

No. 80-242

Argued March 31, 1981

Decided June 26, 1981

453 U.S. 156




The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA or Act) was amended in 1974 to extend to federal employees the Act's protection of older workers against discrimination in the workplace based on age. Section 15(c) of the Act provides that any aggrieved federal employee "may bring a civil action in any Federal district court of competent jurisdiction for such legal or equitable relief as will effectuate the purposes" of the Act. Respondent federal employee brought suit in Federal District Court against the Secretary of the Navy under § 15(c), alleging violations of the Act and demanding a jury trial. The District Court ruled, over the Secretary's objection, that respondent was entitled to a jury trial. On an interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Respondent was not entitled to a jury trial. Pp. 453 U. S. 160-169.

(a) Where Congress waives the Government's immunity from suit, as it has in the ADEA, the plaintiff has a right to a trial by jury only where Congress has affirmatively and unambiguously granted that right by statute. Pp. 453 U. S. 160-161.

(b) Congress has not done so here. Neither the provision in § 15(c) for federal employer cases to be brought in federal district courts, rather than the Court of Claims, nor the use of the word "legal" in that section, evinces a congressional intent that ADEA plaintiffs who proceed to trial against the Federal Government may do so before a jury. Lorillard v. Pons,434 U. S. 575, distinguished. Section 15(c) contrasts with § 7(c) of the Act, which expressly provides for jury trials in actions against private employers and state and local governments. Moreover, in extending the Act to cover federal employees, Congress based the provision not on the Fair Labor Standards Act, as was § 7, but on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, where, unlike the FLSA, there was no right to trial by jury. Pp. 453 U. S. 162-165.

(c) The legislative history no more supports a holding that respondent has a right to a jury trial than does the statutory language itself. Pp. 453 U. S. 165-168.

202 U.S.App.D.C. 59, 628 F.2d 59, reversed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed

Page 453 U. S. 157

a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 453 U. S. 169.

JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this case is whether a plaintiff in an action against the United States under § 15(c) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is entitled to trial by jury.


The 1974 amendments to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 [Footnote 1] added a new § 15, [Footnote 2] which brought the Federal Government within the scope of the Act for the first time, Section 15(a) [Footnote 3] prohibits the Federal Government from discrimination based on age in most of its civilian employment decisions concerning persons over 40 years of age. Section 15(b) [Footnote 4] provides that enforcement of § 15(a)

Page 453 U. S. 158

in most agencies, including military departments, is the responsibility of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Commission is directed to "issue such rules, regulations, orders and instructions as [the Commission] deems necessary and appropriate" to carry out that responsibility. Section 15(c) [Footnote 5] provides:

"Any person aggrieved may bring a civil action in any Federal district court of competent jurisdiction for such legal or equitable relief as will effectuate the purposes of this Act."

88 Stat. 75.

In 1978, respondent Alice Nakshian, who was then a 62-year-old civilian employee of the United States Department of t.he Navy, brought an age discrimination suit against the Navy under § 15(c). She requested a jury trial. The defendant moved to strike the request, and the District Court denied the motion. Nakshian v. Claytor, 481 F.Supp. 159 (DC). The court stressed that the "legal or equitable relief" language used by Congress to establish a right to sue the Federal Government for age discrimination was identical to the language Congress had previously used in § 7(c) of the Act [Footnote 6] to authorize private ADEA suits. That language,

Page 453 U. S. 159

the District Court said, was an important basis for this Court's holding in Lorillard v. Pons,434 U. S. 575, that § 7(c) permits jury trials in private suits under the Act. The court stated that, "if Congress had intended its consent to ADEA suits [against the Government] to be limited to non-jury trials, it could have easily said as much." 481 F.Supp. at 161. Recognizing that, as a result of 1978 amendments to the ADEA, § 7(c)(2) expressly confers a right to jury trial, whereas no such language exists in § 15, [Footnote 7] 481 F.Supp. at 161, the court found no "explicit refusal" by Congress to grant the right to jury trial against the Government, and noted that the legislative history of the 1978 amendments spoke in general terms about a right to jury trial in ADEA suits.

On interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), a divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed. Nakshian v. Claytor, 202 U.S.App.D.C. 59, 628 F.2d 59. The appellate court rejected the Secretary's argument that a plaintiff is entitled to trial by jury in a suit against the United States only when such a trial has been expressly authorized. Instead, the court viewed the question as "an ordinary question of statutory interpretation," and found sufficient evidence of legislative intent to provide for trial by jury in cases such as this. Noting that Congress had conferred jurisdiction over ADEA suits upon the federal district courts, rather than the Court of Claims, the Court of Appeals concluded that, "absent a provision as to the method of trial, a grant of jurisdiction to a district court as a court of law carries with it a right of jury trial.'" Id. at 63, 628 F.2d at 63 (quoting 5 J. Moore, J. Lucas, & J. Wicker, Moore's Federal Practice

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