Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

views updated May 18 2018

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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, disability, 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 VIIwhich, along with the rest of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, became operational on July 2, 1965has 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 more than 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 2005 alone, the EEOC obtained nearly $173 million in benefits for charging parties through settlement and conciliation (excluding litigation awards). Litigation awards accounted for another $106 million in FY 2005.

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." In FY 2005, the EEOC resolved more than 7,900 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 2005, the EEOC conducted 50 TAPS that reached more than 6,000 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 2004 was $325 million, while its FY 2005 budget was $327 million. Its roster of full-time employees stood at 2,640 at the end of FY 2005, a decline of about 660 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 125,00 in FY 2005.

To contact the EEOC, write the Commission at the following address: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1801 L Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20507; 202-663-4900. The EEOC also maintains a web site at www.eeoc.gov.


Bland, Timothy S. "Heed New EEOC Discrimination Guidelines." Memphis Business Journal. 20 October 2000.

"Hands On." Inc. September 2000.

Tejeda, Carlos. "Federal Discrimination Suits Decline." Wall Street Journal. 18 July 2000.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "EEOC Annual Reports." Available from http://www.eeoc.gov/abouteeoc/annual_reports/index.html. Retrieved on 23 March 2006.

                                 Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                                  updated by Magee, ECDI

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

views updated May 14 2018


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency charged with eliminating discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age, in all terms and conditions of employment. The EEOC investigates alleged discrimination through its 50 field offices, makes determinations based on gathered evidence, attempts conciliation when discrimination has taken place, and files lawsuits. The EEOC also oversees compliance and enforcement activities relating to equal employment opportunity among federal employees and applicants, including discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

The EEOC was created by title VII of the civil rights act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-4. Title VII was amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, Pub. L. No. 92-261, Mar. 24, 1972, 86 Stat. 103; the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, Pub. L. No. 95-555, Oct. 31, 1978, 92 Stat. 2076, codified at 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e(K); and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Pub. L. No. 102-166, 105 Stat. 1071. On July 1, 1979, responsibility for enforcement of the equal pay act of 1963, 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 201 et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 626 et seq., in private industry as well as state and local governments, was transferred from the department of labor to the EEOC. The Equal Pay Act prohibits gender-based pay differences for substantially equal work requiring equal skill and responsibility; the Age Discrimination Act prohibits employment discrimination against workers or applicants 40 years of age or older. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12101 et seq. has been enforced by the EEOC since July 1992. Title I governs private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees. The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities and requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for these individuals.

Complaints under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, by private employers, state and local governments, educational institutions with 15 or more employees, the federal government, private and public employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees for apprenticeship and training. Charges of title VII violations outside the federal sector must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged violation or in states with fair employment practices agencies, within 300 days. The EEOC is responsible for notifying the persons charged, within 10 days after receiving a charge. Before investigation, charges must be deferred for 60 days to state or local fair employment practices agencies in localities with a fair employment practices law covering the alleged discrimination. If the agency has been operating less than one year, the charges must be deferred for 120 days.

Under work-sharing agreements between the EEOC and state and local fair employment practices agencies, the EEOC routinely assumes authority over certain charges of discrimination and proceeds with its investigation. If reasonable cause exists to believe that a charge is true, the district, area, or local office uses informal conciliation conferences to try to remedy the unlawful practices. If an acceptable agreement cannot be reached, the case is submitted to the EEOC for possible litigation. If litigation is approved, the EEOC brings suit in federal district court.

Under title VII, the attorney general brings suit when a state or local government or political subdivision is involved. If litigation is not approved or if a finding of no reasonable cause is made, the charging party is allowed to sue within 90 days in federal district court. The EEOC may intervene in such actions if the case is of general public interest.

Complaints under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 incorporates the remedies and procedures contained in title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employment discrimination charges based on disability may be filed at any of the EEOC's field offices. The EEOC investigates and attempts to conciliate the charges using the same procedures as for charges filed under title VII. The litigation procedures under title VII also apply to charges filed under the ADA.

The progress in creating a genetic "map" for humans in the 1990s was hailed by scientists who hoped a better understanding of genetic makeup might someday help prevent debilitating diseases including cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Along with that promise came the fear that employers might use a person's genetic information to deny employment. In February 2000 President bill clinton signed executive order 13145, which prohibits federal departments and agencies from using protected genetic information to make hiring decisions.

Complaints under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and Equal Pay Act of 1963

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and Equal Pay Act of 1963 cover most employees and job applicants in private industry and in the federal, state, and local governments. An age discrimination charge must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged violation, or where the action took place in a state that has an age discrimination law and an authority administering that law, within 300 days of the violation or 30 days after receiving the notice of termination of state proceedings, whichever is earlier. A lawsuit must be filed within two years of the alleged discriminatory act or within three years in cases of a willful violation of the law.

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, a lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of the plaintiff's receipt of a notice of final action. The EEOC first attempts to end the alleged unlawful practice through informal conciliation. If conciliation fails, the EEOC may sue. Individuals may sue on their own behalf 90 days after filing a charge with the EEOC and the appropriate state agency. If the EEOC takes legal action, an individual covered by the lawsuit may not file a private action.

A lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 may be filed by the EEOC or by the complainant. There are no prerequisites for bringing a private action under this law. Wages may be recovered for a period of up to two years prior to the filing of a suit, except in a case of willful violation, for which three years' back pay may be recovered. The name of the individual filing the complaint may be kept confidential at the administrative level.

Complaints against the Federal Government

Federal employees or job applicants who want to file complaints of job discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, or physical or mental disability must first consult an equal employment opportunity counselor with the employees' or applicants' agency within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory action. If the complaint cannot be resolved informally, the person may file a formal complaint within 15 days of receiving a notice of the right to file a complaint. An accepted complaint is investigated by the agency, and the complainant has a right to a hearing before an EEOC administrative judge before the agency issues its final decision. An individual who wishes to file a complaint under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 must follow these procedures. An individual may also elect to file suit under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 without prior resort to the agency or to the EEOC.

A complaint under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, against a federal agency or department, must be filed with the head of the agency, director of equal employment opportunity, head of an EEOC field installation, or other designated official. Federal employees may bypass the administrative complaint process and file a civil action directly in a federal district court, by first notifying the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act and then waiting 30 calendar days before filing suit. A federal employee may appeal a decision of an agency, an arbitrator, or the Federal Labor Relations Authority, with the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations, at any time up to 30 calendar days after receiving the agency notice of final decision. A petition for review of a merit systems protection board decision may be filed within 30 days of the date that the board decision becomes final. A request for reconsideration of any EEOC decision must be made in writing within 30 days of receiving the decision.

Other Activities

The EEOC publishes data on the employment status of women and members of minority groups. Through six employment surveys covering private employers, apprenticeship programs, labor unions, state and local governments, elementary and secondary schools, and colleges and universities, the EEOC tabulates data on employees' ethnic, racial, and gender makeup. The EEOC distributes this information to various federal agencies and makes it available for public use.

Eliminating a large backlog of discrimination charges has been a continuing problem for the EEOC, but efforts to streamline have been effective; by fiscal year 2001 the inventory of charges had been reduced to 32,481, in contrast to a record 120,000 charges in mid-1995.

In 1999 the EEOC launched a National Mediation Program as an alternative to the traditional complaint process. Professionals trained in mediation work with employers and employees to determine whether a mutually agreeable resolution can be reached. By 2003 the EEOC had resolved 29,000 charges through mediation. In March 2003 the EEOC added a mediation pilot program, a "referral back" program that allows the agency to give charges back to a company's internal dispute resolution program in the hopes of mediating its own agreement.

Web site: <http:/www.eeoc.gov>.

further readings

Fick, Barbara J. 1997. The American Bar Association Guide to Workplace Law: Everything You Need to Know about Your Rights as an Employee or Employer. New York: Times Books.

Player, Mack A. 1999. Federal Law of Employment Discrimination in a Nutshell. 4th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West.

——. 1988. Employment Discrimination Law. St. Paul, Minn.: West.

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <www.gpoaccess.gov/gmanual> (accessed November 10, 2003).

Williams, Douglas L. 1995. "Handling the EEOC Investigation." American Law Institute-American Bar Association C983.


Affirmative Action; Civil Rights; Disability Discrimination; Employment Law; Sex Discrimination.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

views updated Jun 11 2018


EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION (EEOC) is an independent federal regulatory agency created under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act with the mission of eliminating illegal workplace discrimination. Its main function is to administer Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.

The EEOC is composed of five commissioners—not more than three of whom may be from the same political party—appointed by the president for five-year staggered terms. The commissioners are responsible for setting EEOC policy and approving all litigation filed on the agency's behalf. The U.S. president designates one of the commissioners as chair and another as vice chair. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. served as the first chair.) The president also appoints a general counsel with overall responsibility for the agency's litigation for a four-year term. The commissioners and general counsel must be confirmed by the Senate; investigative work is conducted by employees in district offices.

The history of federal efforts to create an agency to deal with discrimination goes back to 1941. Wartime manpower needs and a threat by black civil rights activists to march on Washington, D.C., in support of their demands for improved job opportunities led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create, by executive order, the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). The FEPC was responsible for ensuring that the federal civil service and those industries essential to the war effort or holding government contracts observed fair employment practices. The committee operated until 1946. President Harry S. Truman established the Committee on Government Contract Compliance, which operated only from April 1952 to January 1953. In September 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the Committee on Government Contracts; it was replaced in April 1961 with President John F. Kennedy's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. In all of these cases, agency authority covered only government employment and employment in private companies doing business directly with the government. Legislative support for an agency responsible for ending discrimination in private sector employment did not exist until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

By the end of the twentieth century, the EEOC pursued its mission of equal employment opportunity in several ways: it provided technical assistance to businesses and organizations, engaged in public education, developed regulations that provided the framework for enforcement of the law, and issued enforcement guidelines that interpreted key standards within the law. Its guidelines in such areas as affirmative action, pregnancy discrimination, fetal protection, sex-segregated advertising, and sexual harassment have had an important influence on employment discrimination law and employer behavior toward employees. Also, the EEOC receives and responds to complaints of discrimination. This latter function probably receives the most public attention. However, as originally constituted, the EEOC had limited ability to respond to complaints. If it found probable cause that discrimination had occurred, the agency was empowered only to negotiate, conciliate, or attempt to persuade the employer to abandon discriminatory policies. If these efforts were unsuccessful, the commission referred the case to the Department of Justice for litigation. When the EEOC found insufficient evidence of discrimination, it issued a right-to-sue notice allowing the complainant the opportunity to file suit in federal court within ninety days.

Concerned about the limits on the agency's ability to enforce the ban on discrimination, Congress enacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, which authorized the EEOC to file lawsuits against employers after unsuccessful attempts at conciliation. In 1974, Congress gave the EEOC the authority to bring pattern-and-practice suits against employers in federal court—that is, suits charging discrimination on an industry wide or company wide basis. Under the direction of chairperson Eleanor Holmes Norton, appointed in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter, the EEOC began to focus most of its attention on widespread employment discrimination using class-action suits and pattern-and-practice cases as its weapons. Since receiving authority to litigate, the commission has filed many legal actions against large corporations, gaining relief for millions of employees.

Not only has Congress increased the tools available to the EEOC since 1964, it has also expanded the scope of its authority. In 1979, the EEOC became the lead agency for handing all types of employment discrimination. Congress gave it enforcement authority for complaints brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, and Title VII. Later, Congress expanded the EEOC's jurisdiction through the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Older Workers Benefit Protections Act of 1990, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

However, not only statutory directives determine the scope of EEOC activities and powers. The enforcement philosophy and managerial concerns of its commissioners and the president of the United States are also important. In 1982, the EEOC changed direction under the leadership of Clarence Thomas, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, and began to concentrate on cases of individual discrimination. This approach, which focused on particularized fact situations involving only one or a small number of identifiable individuals, reduced the EEOC's effectiveness in combating widespread employment discrimination. In the 1990s, under the administration of President Bill Clinton, the EEOC tried to find a middle ground between an individualized and a systemic approach to law enforcement. In 1996, the commission adopted its National Enforcement Plan that emphasized voluntary resolution of disputes and provided that—when enforcement action was required—priority would be given to cases that would have the greatest impact on eliminating discrimination.

Over the years, the EEOC has influenced the direction of employment discrimination law, obtained relief for millions of discrimination victims, and educated employers and employees on their rights and responsibilities. Even so, as the agency enters the twenty-first century, it continues to face challenges. Caseloads have been growing at a record pace as a result of the commission's expanded jurisdiction and the changing nature of the workforce; it receives an increasing number of charges involving multiple or intersecting bases of discrimination; and more cases of retaliation, a problem that—if undeterred—can undermine the commission's entire mission. The EEOC must continue to use its broad array of tools—technical assistance, outreach, education, voluntary dispute resolution, and litigation—in a creative manner to promote equal employment opportunity during the twenty-first century.


Belz, Herman. Equality Transformed: A Quarter-Century of Affirmative Action. Bowling Green, Ohio: Social Philosophy and Policy Center; New Brunswick, Ohio: Transaction Publishers, 1991.

Burstein, Paul. Discrimination, Jobs, and Politics: The Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity in the United States Since the New Deal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985; 1998.

"The Story of the United States Equal Employment Commission: Ensuring the Promise of Opportunity for 35 Years, 1965–2000." Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Available from http://www.eeoc.gov/35th/index.html.

Graham, Hugh Davis. The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960–1972. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Ruchames, Louis. Race, Jobs and Politics: The Story of FEPC. New York: Columbia University Press, 1953; Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1971.

Henry N.Drewrey

Susan GluckMezey/c. p.

See alsoCivil Rights Movement ; Civil Rights Restoration Act ; Discrimination: Age ; Pregnancy Discrimination Act ; Women's Rights Movements: The 20th Century ; andvol. 9:NOW Statement of Purpose .


views updated May 17 2018


views updated May 11 2018

EEOC (USA) Equal Employment Opportunities Commission