Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer
427 U.S. 445 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445 (1976)

Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer

No. 75-251

Argued April 221, 1976

Decided June 28, 1976*

427 U.S. 445


Present and retired male employees of the State of Connecticut (petitioners in No. 75-251) brought this class action alleging, inter alia, that certain provisions of the State's statutory retirement benefit plan discriminated against them because of their sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, as amended, extends coverage to the States as employers. The District Court ruled in their favor and entered prospective injunctive relief against respondent state officials. But the court denied petitioners' request for an award of retroactive retirement benefits as compensation for losses caused by the State's discrimination, as well as "a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs," as provided in Title VII, holding that both would constitute recovery of money damages from the State's treasury, and were thus precluded by the Eleventh Amendment and by this Court's decision in Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U. S. 651, where the District Court's award for welfare benefits wrongfully withheld was held to violate that Amendment, there being no authorization in the Social Security Act for a citizen to sue a State. The Court of Appeals reversed in the matter of attorneys' fees, the award of which was deemed to have only an "ancillary effect" on the state treasury of the sort permitted by Edelman, but otherwise affirmed.


1. The Eleventh Amendment does not bar a backpay award to petitioners in No. 75-251, since that Amendment and the principle of state sovereignty that it embodies are limited by the enforcement provisions of § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants Congress authority to enforce "by appropriate

Page 427 U. S. 446

legislation" the substantive provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, which themselves embody significant limitations on state authority. Congress, in determining what legislation is appropriate for enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment, may, as it has done in Title VII, provide for suits against States that are constitutionally impermissible in other contexts. The "threshold fact of congressional authorization" for a citizen to sue his state employer, which was absent in Edelman, supra, is thus present here. Pp. 427 U. S. 451-456.

2. Congress' exercise of power in allowing reasonable attorneys' fees is similarly not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Pp. 427 U. S. 456-457.

519 F.2d 559, affirmed in part, reversed in part.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C J., and STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 427 U. S. 457, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 427 U. S. 458, filed opinions concurring in the judgment.

Page 427 U. S. 447

Primary Holding
Congress can abrogate state sovereign immunity in connection to its power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes the states as covered employers. Current and retired male employees of the state of Connecticut sued the state in federal court on the grounds that its statutory retirement plan violated the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against them based on their gender. While the federal district court ruled in part for the employees, it held that the Eleventh Amendment prevented them from receiving back pay. On appeal, the court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment may not be enforced through a private action for retroactive damages.



  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.

Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides a Congressional grant of authority for the federal court system to award money damages to private individuals who have been subjected to employment discrimination by a state government. These provisions limit the sovereign immunity provided to states by the Eleventh Amendment, especially since the Fourteenth Amendment imposes substantive limitations on state authority. Congressional action under Section 5 is particularly authoritative because it is derived not only from its own legislative authority but also from a Constitutional text that is designed to limit state authority. Certain types of actions thus may be permissible in this context that otherwise would be barred by state sovereign immunity.


  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)

Case Commentary

The modern Supreme Court has shown an expanding view of the Eleventh Amendment, giving Congress broader authority to abrogate state sovereign immunity when it chooses.

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