National Bank Act Does Not Completely Preempt Bank Employee’s Discrimination Claim

In Quinn v. U.S. Bank NA, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —-, Cal.App. 2 Dist., June 6, 2011), a court of appeal considered whether a bank employee’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) disability discrimination claim was preempted by a provision of the National Bank Act which grants to national banks the power to dismiss their officers “at pleasure.” The court of appeal held that because the National Bank Act’s “at pleasure” clause was impliedly amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the “at pleasure” clause preempts the “FEHA only to the extent that [its] disability provisions exceed the requirements of the ADA.”


Robert Quinn (“Quinn”) was a senior vice president at U.S. Bank NA (“Bank”). Quinn’s supervisor, Wayne Brander (“Brander”), terminated him from his employment with Bank on May 7, 2008. Quinn filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) alleging Bank denied him accommodations and harassed and terminated him because of his physical disability. On April 27, 2009, Quinn received a right-to-sue letter and he filed a lawsuit against Bank and Brander on August 21, 2009. Quinn alleged Bank and Brander (collectively, “Bank”) terminated him because he suffers from type 2 diabetes. Quinn also alleged Bank refused to accommodate his diabetes and harassed him for seeking accommodations. Quinn alleged Bank’s actions violated the FEHA.

Bank filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that Quinn’s causes of action are preempted by the National Bank Act’s “at pleasure” clause. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Bank.


State law is preempted by federal law under the following three circumstances: (1) where Congress has explicitly expressed an intent to preempt state law, (2) where the state law “regulates conduct in a field that Congress intended the Federal Government to occupy exclusively,” and (3) where state law actually conflicts with federal law. In cases of conflict between state and federal law, state law is preempted only to the extent the state law actually conflicts with federal law.

Section 24 of the National Bank Act “provides that a national bank ‘shall have power’ ‘[t]o elect or appoint directors, and by its board of directors to appoint a president, vice president, cashier, and other officers, define their duties, require bonds of them and fix the penalty thereof, dismiss such officers or any of them at pleasure, and appoint others to fill their places.’” Bank asserted Quinn’s claims against it were preempted by section 24.

The court of appeal examined both state and federal case law and the ADA and FEHA and concluded “state antidiscrimination laws are preempted only to the extent that they exceed the requirements of the ADA.” Congress enacted the ADA for several reasons, including “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” The ADA applies to all employers who have 15 or more employees. The sole exception is that the ADA does not apply to the United States, corporations wholly owned by the United States, and Indian tribes. The ADA’s antidiscrimination provisions “plainly conflict with a bank’s authority under section 24 to dismiss officers ‘at pleasure.’” The court concluded that the authority that section 24 grants to national banks to dismiss their officers “at pleasure” does not include “the right to terminate officers in a manner that violates the prohibitions against disability discrimination enumerated in the ADA.” The court held the “FEHA is impliedly preempted only where it conflicts with the ‘dismiss at pleasure’ provision of section 24, as that provision has been amended by the ADA.”

The court further held that section 24, as amended by the ADA, does not preempt the FEHA’s statute of limitations. Bank argued that section 24 preempts the provisions of the FEHA that provide a plaintiff more time to file a discrimination claim than the ADA. The FEHA provides that an employee or complainant must file an administrative complaint with the DFEH within one year of the date of the alleged discriminatory act. If the DFEH decides not to pursue the complaint, it must issue a right-to-sue letter within one year after the complaint was filed. The complainant then has one year from the date of the right-to-sue letter to file a civil action.

The ADA, however, provides that a complainant has to file an administrative complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, commonly referred to as the EEOC, within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory action, or within 300 days from the alleged discriminatory action if the complainant has instituted state or local proceedings to seek relief from discrimination. A civil action for an ADA claim must be filed within 90 days after a right-to-sue letter has been issued by the EEOC.

Bank asserted that because the statute of limitations is shorter under the ADA, the statue of limitations under the FEHA is preempted by section 24. The court rejected this argument and concluded “that requiring a FEHA plaintiff to comply with the statute of limitations imposed by the ADA is not necessary to satisfy Congress’s intent as expressed in section 24.” “Permitting states to impose different statutes of limitations than would be imposed under comparable federal antidiscrimination law in no way subjects national banks to ‘diverse and duplicative superintendence’ or imposes ‘limitations and restrictions as various and as numerous as the States.’” The statutes of limitations for discrimination “claims brought against banks have no substantive regulatory effects on the banks.” Furthermore, the statute of limitations applicable pursuant to the “ADA already expressly varies by state.” The court found that the ADA contemplates that the filing deadlines for ADA claims will vary by state.

However, the court found that Quinn did not state a claim against Brander. Unlike the FEHA, “the ADA does not permit individual claims against supervisors.” Therefore, Quinn is unable to state a disability discrimination claim against Brander.


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