The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established to enforce provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII forbids discrimination in the workplace based on race, age, handicap, religion, sex, or national origin. Title VII 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. Businesses covered by Title VII include 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.
Originally, government-owned corporations, Indian tribes, and federal employees were not covered under the provisions of Title VII; the latter group was 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. Title VII—which, along with the rest of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, became operational on July 2, 1965—has since been amended several times over the years. Key amendments include the Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The EEOC is also responsible for enforcing the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (including amendments to Section 501 prohibiting employment discrimination against federal employees with disabilities), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Today, the EEOC provides oversight and coordination of all federal regulations, practices, and policies affecting equal employment opportunity.
Title VII and the EEOC trace their beginnings to World War II federal defense contracts. Faced with the threat of a "Negro march" on Washington to protest discrimination in hiring of defense contract workers, President 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 was processing 8,000 employment discrimination complaints annually. The powers of the FEPC were decidedly limited. While the committee discouraged discrimination within the defense industry, it lacked the legal clout to enforce its desires. Over the next several years, both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower established committees on government contract compliance, but again enforcement power was absent. Only when President Kennedy created the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity were one of these groups given enforcement powers. Even in this case, however, the committee's legal authority was limited. Moreover, Kennedy's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, like its predecessors, dealt only with discrimination within businesses that had government contracts, not workplace discrimination in the overall private sector. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 changed this by addressing discrimination in all areas of employment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's enforcement program manages between 75,000 and 80,000 charges annually. In the EEOC system, charges are prioritized into one of three categories for purposes of investigation and resource allocation: A (top priority charges to which offices devote substantial investigative and settlement efforts); B (charges deemed to have merit but needing additional investigation); and C (charges judged to be unsupported or not under the EEOC's jurisdiction, and thus are not pursued). In FY 1998 alone, the EEOC obtained nearly $170 million in benefits for charging parties through settlement and conciliation (excluding litigation awards). Litigation awards accounted for another $90 million in FY 1998.
Under EEOC rules of operation and investigation, settlements between disputing parties are encouraged at all stages of the process. With this in mind, the EEOC maintains a mediation-based alternative dispute resolution program. "The mediation program," states the EEOC, "is guided by principles of informed and voluntary participation at all stages, confidential deliberation by all parties, and neutral mediators." From FY 1996 through FY 1998, the EEOC resolved more than 2,400 charges via its mediation program.
Anyone who feels that he or she has suffered workplace discrimination because of his or her race, age, physical disability, religion, sex, or national origin is eligible to file a complaint with the EEOC. Complaints or charges are generally filed at an EEOC 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 occurrence of the act that is the reason the complaint is being filed. Complaints may be filed at any one of 50 district, area, local, and field EEOC offices throughout the United States.
Upon receiving a discrimination charge the EEOC defers that charge to a state or local fair employment practices agency. This agency has either 60 or 120 days to act on the complaint (the allotted time depends on several factors). If no action is taken on the state or local level within that time the charge reverts back to the EEOC, which processes the charge on the 61st or 121st day. This becomes the official filing day of the complaint. Within 10 days of the filing date the EEOC notifies those parties charged with discrimination. The EEOC subsequently undertakes an investigation of the charge. If the investigation shows reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, the Commission launches conciliation efforts. The reaching of an agreement between the two parties signals closure of the case. If such an agreement cannot be reached, the EEOC has the option of filing suit in court or the aggrieved party may file suit on his or her own. If no violation of Title VII is found, the EEOC removes itself from the case, though the party charging discrimination is still free to file suit in court within a specified time.
EEOC PROGRAMS The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has established numerous programs designed to inform the public of EEOC activities and responsibilities. The Technical Assistance Program (TAPS) is a one-day educational seminar for unions and small and mid-size employers. This program highlights the rights of employers and employees under Title VII. In FY 1998, the EEOC conducted 58 TAPS that reached more than 7,000 participants. The Expanded Presence Program sends contact teams to areas that would otherwise have little immediate accessibility to the EEOC. The EEOC also sponsors a Federal Dispute Resolution Conference, aids state and local fair practices employment agencies, and maintains liaison programs with unions, civil rights organizations, and various federal, state and local government agencies.
The EEOC's budget appropriation for FY 1998 was $242 million, while its FY 1999 budget was $279 million. Its roster of full-time employees stood at 2,500 at the end of FY 1998, a decline of about 800 employees over a two-decade period. In the meantime, however, the agency's enforcement obligations have "substantially expanded due to new statutory responsibilities," stated the EEOC. Most of these charges concern alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act or sexual harassment. Overall, charge filings increased from 62,000 in FY 1990 to approximately 80,000 in FY 1998.
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Tejeda, Carlos. "Federal Discrimination Suits Decline." Wall Street Journal. July 18, 2000.