Equal Employment Opportunity Act

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Equal Employment Opportunity Act

The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Act of 1972, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1972, expanded Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to increase protection of minorities and women in both public- and private-sector employment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender, creed, race, or ethnic background. Its stated goal was equality of employment opportunities, and it resolved to “remove barriers that have operated in the past.” Title VII prohibited employers from discriminating in advertising, recruitment, hiring, job classification, promotion, discharge, wages and salaries, and other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a monitoring device to prevent job discrimination.

Under the 1964 act, however, the EEOC lacked enforcement powers. The 1972 EEO Act authorized the EEOC to take job-discrimination cases directly to the federal district courts. It extended employment protection uniformly to include both private-sector and government employees and authorized enforcement through the Civil Service Commission and the federal courts. The EEO Act of 1972 also established an Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinating Council to formulate a uniform approach and to help employers comply with the federal government's equal-opportunity efforts.

The controversy

The EEO Act of 1972 set about to make a fair and equal employment environment in which racial and ethnic minorities and women, who had long been victims of discrimination, were on a level with white males, who had not been victims of discrimination. The efforts of the new act to correct that imbalance became known as affirmative action .

The EEO Act of 1972 stirred controversy. Some employers translated the affirmative action policy of the federal government into the establishment of a racial or gender quota system. A racial quota system is a numerical requirement for hiring and promoting employees of a particular racial or gender group. Using quota systems in the hiring of minorities was perceived by many to be discrimination against white males.

Soon after the EEO Act of 1972 was implemented, lawsuits based on racial and sexual discrimination began to pour into courts, creating backlogs in the handling of cases and indicating that discrimination was widespread. Conversely, lawsuits were brought and at times successfully contested claiming “reverse” discrimination. The lawsuits, the racial and ethnic inequities in American society, and the legal and political debate over affirmative action all continued well into the twenty-first century.