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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Arabian American Oil Co.

Citation. EEOC v. Arabian Am. Oil Co., 499 U.S. 244, 111 S. Ct. 1227, 113 L. Ed. 2d 274, 59 U.S.L.W. 4225, 55 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 449, 55 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P40,607 (U.S. Mar. 26, 1991)
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Brief Fact Summary

Boureslan (Plaintiff), an American working abroad for Aramco (Defendant), an American corporation, claimed employment discrimination in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act does not apply to American employers abroad.


Boureslan (Plaintiff) had been an employee of Arabian American Oil Co. (Aramco) (Defendant), working in Saudia Arabia.  He was discharged, and afterward filed a suit in U.S. District Court, claiming employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin, in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  The district court dismissed, ruling that the Act did not have extraterritorial application.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed, and the Supreme Court granted review.


Does the 1964 Civil Rights Act apply to American employers abroad?


(Rehnquist, C.J.)  No.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act does not apply to American employers abroad.  The only determination to make in this issue is the intent to Congress.  The analysis begins with the presumption that laws are not intended to have extraterritorial application.  To reach a contrary conclusion, a court must find clear evidence of legislative intent.  The Act contains no language to this effect.  The jurisdictional language in the statute, while broad, is unclear regarding extraterritorial application.  In addition, the Act provides no mechanisms for foreign enforcements and contains no provisions for conflicts with foreign laws, as most statutes with foreign application do.  In this case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Plaintiff), which has intervened, urges extraterritorial application.  Courts must show some regard to administrative agency interpretations of law, but the final decision must be left to the courts.  It seems clear in this case that Congress did not intend the Act to have foreign application.  Affirmed.


The presumption against extraterritorial application of a law is merely that, a presumption.  It does not address the power of Congress to legislate in such a manner.  This power, without doubt, exists.  It is universally recognized in international law that a government can legislate regarding the activities of its citizens abroad.

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