Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji

PETITIONER: Saint Francis College
LOCATION: Highway 80, Solano County, California

DOCKET NO.: 85-2169
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 481 US 604 (1987)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1987
DECIDED: May 18, 1987

Caroline Mitchell - Argued the cause for the respondent
Nick S. Fisfis - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

Al-Khazraji, a professor and U.S. citizen born in Iraq, filed suit against his former employer and its tenure committee for denying him tenure on the basis of his Arabian race in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. The District Court held that while Al-Kharzraji had properly alleged racial discrimination, the record was insufficient to determine whether he had been subjected to prejudice.


Did 42 U.S.C. Section 1981 apply to Arab minorities?

Media for Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1987 in Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument now in No. 85-2039, Saint Francis College versus Mahid Ghaidan Al-Khazraji, etcetera.

Mr. Fisfis, you may begin whenever you are ready.

Nick S. Fisfis:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case involves issues similar to that present in the prior discussion, and started by the filing of three complaints in the Western District of Pennsylvania by plaintiff Dr. Al-Khazraji charging various offenses under the civil rights laws of the United States.

I go into the detail only because there is some question as to what the pleadings here actually raise, and therefore you have the question as to the kind of charges that were in fact made.

My brief sets forth the allegations in the various complaints here, and I would note that the operative complaint as viewed by the District Court did not charge any racial discrimination but charged discrimination on the basis of national origin and religion, and that therefore the question then becomes whether or not an Arab under the facts here would be treated as falling within the scope of section 1981 of Title 42 in a situation when in fact there was not a racial allegation made.

Now, I should say in all fairness that District Judge Zigler who had handled the case before it was reassigned to Judge Menser had read the case or had read the various pleadings more broadly than Judge Menser did and more broadly apparently... and as broadly apparently as the Third Circuit did in this particular situation.

But the fact remains that the operative complaint as I think it was read by both Judge Zigler and Judge Menser was really the second complaint, the one filed by prior counsel for the plaintiff here, and that complaint basically restricted itself to a national origin and a religion complaint, not a racial one.

However, the issue here seems to be premised on the notion that in fact a racial complaint at least could arguably be read into the complaint.

That seems to be the basis upon which the Court granted certiorari in this case, and therefore other than mentioning the limitations on the actual pleadings, which is a fact that the Court might take into consideration, I will then deal with the argument as to whether or not Arabs do fall within the scope of Section 1981 of the--

Byron R. White:

What did the Court of Appeals hold?

Nick S. Fisfis:

--The Court of Appeals, Your Honor, held here that Arabs do fall within the scope of Section 1981.

Byron R. White:

So the race issue was... rather than national original was before it.

Nick S. Fisfis:

Oh, yes, indeed, it was.

I mean, the least the way the Third Circuit interpreted the factual situation.

Byron R. White:

So we are reviewing a judgment of the Court of Appeals, so I am not sure the pleadings have got much to do--

Nick S. Fisfis:

Well, Your Honor, the point about getting into the pleading history and what have you is that the various pleadings are some indication that from the beginning the plaintiff here has been viewing this as a national origin claim and that Arab at least initially and to some extent has been characterized as being in the national origin category.

Byron R. White:

--The Court of Appeals said... went on a racial ground, didn't it?

Nick S. Fisfis:

Yes, but I am discussing this in terms of, to use the phrases that were used previously, the--

Byron R. White:

So you will discuss it on a racial ground.

Nick S. Fisfis:

--Yes, I am... yes, I will, Your Honor.

Byron R. White:

All right.

Nick S. Fisfis:

My position is really a rather simple one in this case.

The statute basically talks in terms of white citizens and it seems fairly well admitted by the plaintiff himself in the deposition that he gave that he qualifies as a Caucasian, i.e., that he is in fact racially white.

The charges of discrimination are presumably that he was discriminated against in relation to other people who are racially white, and our position very simply is that in that kind of a factual situation a claim under Section 1981 is not made.

And it really comes down to that.

He has admitted in the deposition that he does qualify as a Caucasian, i.e., a person who is racially white.

The statute has been construed by this Court to apply on a racial basis, not on a national origin basis, not on a religion basis, not on a sex basis, and therefore once the plaintiff in essence admits that he is a Caucasian, and when his purported complaint is that he was discriminated against in denial of tenure in relation to other Caucasians, that a claim is not made under the statute.

Byron R. White:

He doesn't have in his allegations or in his proof things that are in the prior case that was argued--

Nick S. Fisfis:


Byron R. White:

--Namely, that he was discriminated on the grounds of race because that was the intent of the people who fired him.