The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) became operational on July 2,1965, as a result of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII has since been amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Title VII is landmark federal legislation prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. The act covers all phases and aspects of employment including but not necessarily restricted to hiring, termination of employment, layoffs, promotions, wages, on-the-job-training, and disciplinary action. Covered by Title VII are employers in the private sector with 15 or more employees, educational institutions, state and local governments, labor unions with 15 or more members, employment agencies, and, under certain circumstances, labor-management committees. Not covered under the provisions of Title VII are government-owned corporations and American Indian tribes. When Title VII was enacted it did not cover federal employees. At that time they were protected from discriminatory practices by Executive Order 11478, which was administered and enforced by the U.S. Civil Service Commission. In 1978, however, federal equal employment functions were transferred to the EEOC. In the fiscal year 1996 the EEOC handled 10,677 requests for administrative hearings from federal employees and resolved 8,760 appeals.

The EEOC is charged with enforcing the various federal statutes written to prohibit employment discrimination. These statutes include the already mentioned Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits discrimination against employees 40 years of age or older; the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which outlaws differing levels of compensation on the basis of gender for the performance of substantially similar work under substantially similar conditions; and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability in both the public and private sector, excluding federal government employees who are covered by Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Title VII and the EEOC trace their beginnings to World War II federal defense contracts. Under the threat of an African-American march on Washington protesting discrimination in the hiring of defense contract workers, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 in 1941. This order called for the participation of all U.S. citizens in defense programs regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin. The order also established the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), which by 1943 had processed 8,000 employment discrimination complaints. The FEPC, while discouraging discrimination in relation to defense contract workers, lacked enforcement powers. Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower also established committees on government contract compliance but again enforcement power was absent. President John Kennedy created the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which did have enforcement powers, albeit limited. These various committees and programs, however, dealt with discrimination only in relation to government contract workers, not workplace discrimination in the private sector. This situation was remedied when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which included Title VII, into law.

Anyone who feels he or she has suffered workplace discrimination because of reasons covered by Title VII is eligible to file a complaint with the EEOC. Complaints falling outside of the federal sector are generally filed at an EEOC field office by the aggrieved party or by his or her designated agent. All charges must be filed in writing (preferably but not necessarily on the appropriate EEOC form) within 180 days of the alleged violation (or up to 300 days in a state or locality in which a fair employment practices agency is located).

Upon receiving the charge the EEOC must within ten days notify those being charged with the complaint. The EEOC will defer the charge, however, to a state or local fair employment practices agency in those areas where there are local fair employment practice laws covering the alleged discrimination. When the EEOC investigates a charge it is allocated to one of three categories. "Category A" charges are of the highest priority and the EEOC will undertake principal investigative and settlement efforts. "Category B" charges are those in which there is an appearance of a violation but further investigation is needed before a final decision can be made. "Category C" charges are those charges for which there is no supporting evidence or the charges fall out of EEOC jurisdiction. In this case, however, the aggrieved party is still free to file suit in court within a specified time limit.

Regardless of the assigned category, the EEOC encourages voluntary settlements at all stages of the process. A voluntary settlement by both parties signals a closure to the case. If a voluntary agreement cannot be reached, the EEOC has the option of filing suit in court on behalf of the aggrieved party or the aggrieved party may file suit on his or her own behalf. The EEOC also has a mediation-based alternative program for resolving disputes. Under this program a neutral mediator renders a decision based on voluntary participation and confidential deliberation by all parties.

As a result of these programs and efforts the EEOC had a caseload of 79,448 charges by the end of fiscal 1996, which was down from 111,345 cases in 1995; charging parties had been awarded more than $145 million (excluding litigation awards) as a result of settlement and conciliation. From the inception of the mediation program in the 1996 fiscal year through the end of the third quarter of the 1997 fiscal year, the EEOC had resolved 550 charges through mediation and garnered $7 million for charging parties, while accruing a backlog of more than 1,300 cases awaiting mediation.

In 1996 the EEOC started its National Enforcement Plan (NEP) which calls for a three-step approach to dealing with discriminatory practices in the workplace: the first step is prevention through education and outreach, the second step emphasizes voluntary resolution, and the third step calls for "strong and fair" enforcement of the antidiscriminatory statutes.

As part of the NEP program the EEOC prioritizes areas for litigation and authorizes its field officers to generate Local Enforcement Plans (LEP) that meld together NEP strictures and the particular needs and concerns of various communities. When aggrieved parties are not able to reach voluntary settlements the EEOC does not hesitate to litigate and the commission can be quite successful in court. Some of its notable victories in 1997 include: a $13 million back pay settlement against Lockheed Martin for dismissing 450 older workers and a $1.3 million settlement against a Minneapolis management recruitment firm in a sexual harassment case.

The EEOC has also won many notable precedent-setting cases in federal courts including: Diaz v. Pan American World Airways, 442 F2d 385 (5th Cir 1971), which ruled that customer preference of a particular sex is not justification for gender discrimination; Phillips v. Martin Marietta, 400 US 542 (1971), which held that mothers with preschool children cannot be denied employment without ample business justification; Local 53, Asbestos Workers v. Voegler, 407 F2d 1047 (5th Cir 1969), which ruled that if a workforce or union membership is primarily Caucasian then preferential hiring of relatives and friends of union members is unlawful; Rosen v. Public Service Electric Company, 409 F2d 775 (3rd Cir 1973), which put an end to different mandatory retirement ages for men and women as provided in some pension plans; and Rosenfeld v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 293 F Supp. 1219 (C D Cal 1968), in which the court found that state laws that limit the number of hours a woman may work or the maximum amount of weight she may lift are invalid when they are deemed to discriminate rather than protect.

The EEOC is also charged with enforcing Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) which took effect in 1992. This act prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against individuals who despite disabilities are qualified for particular jobs. These individuals are protected against discrimination in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. This act defines individuals with disabilities as people who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; people who have a record of such impairment; and people who are regarded as having such an impairment. A qualified individual is one who with or without reasonable accommodations can perform those tasks essential to the functions of the job in question.

The EEOC is also responsible for the parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 dealing with sexual harassment. Court decisions concerning sexual harassment law have been vague, not specifically applicable, and unclear. This left employers and employees alike uncertain as to their legal standing. It is hoped that the June 1998 Supreme Court rulings in Burlington Industries v. Ellerth and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton will clarify sexual harassment law. In 1997 the EEOC reviewed 15,889 sexual harassment complaints and settled cases totaling $49.4 million.

The EEOC is administered by five commissioners appointed by the president—with the advice and consent of the Senate—who serve five-year staggered terms. The president also designates a chairman and vice chairman. Discrimination charges are handled by 50 field offices in most major U.S. cities.

Since the Reagan administration of the 1980s the staff and budget of the EEOC have steadily declined. In 1998 staffing levels were around 2,950, a 25 percent drop since 1981. As their budget was reduced the caseload of the EEOC increased. In 1997 the average EEOC investigator handled 77 cases annually, up from 59 in 1991. Cases also take longer to resolve. The 1997 average was 358 days, versus 254 days in 1991. President Bill Clinton, however, has proposed $279 million in EEOC funding for 1999, a 15 percent increase of over $242 million from 1998.

[ Michael Knes ]


Bernstein, Aaron. "The Workplace Cops Could Use Some Backup." Business Week, 23 February 1998, 42.

Greenhouse, Linda. "Court Spells Out Rules for Finding Sex Harassment." New York Times, 27 June 1998, Al.

Kilberg, William J. "Whither Goest the EEOC?" Employee

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"The Perils of Flirtation." Economist, 14 February 1998,25-26.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "About the EEOC." Washington: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1998. Available from www.eeoc.gov/welcome.html .

——. The First Decade. Washington: GPO, 1974.

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