Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Unlawful Employment Practices
By: Everett Dirksen
Date: July 2, 1964
About the Author: Republican Senator Everett Dirksen (1896–1969) represented the state of Illinois from 1950 until his death in 1969. Elected to the Senate Minority Leader post in 1959, he worked with Lyndon Johnson in the Senate and later with President Johnson in crafting the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Labor history for black Americans stretches back to forced slavery in the 1600s, as colonial powers permitted landowners to import slaves from Africa into new colonies in North America. When the slave system in the United States ended between 1863 and 1865, with President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and later the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, former slaves found themselves free individuals and no longer legally held commodities. The southern states had relied on slave labor for centuries; shifting from an economy based on slave labor to a paid labor system involved serious economic and social adjustments in the post-Civil War period.
At the same time, women began to emerge as part of the growing industrial workforce in the northern United States. The convergence of former slaves migrating north, immigrants arriving from western Europe, and urbanization bringing more women into the workforce in and near city centers changed the labor market dramatically. Immigrants, women, children, and African Americans faced outright discrimination on the job; they were paid lower wages and were the first to be fired. Unions often excluded women and black workers; the Knights of Labor, formed in 1869, welcomed women (and minorities in 1883), but the American Federation of Labor, which became the dominant force in American society, excluded women and minorities for some time.
World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945) temporarily changed labor circumstances for women and minorities as wartime industry required a strong supply of workers to fill the void created as white male soldiers were shipped off to war. Between the wars the Great Depression (1929–1941) created severe unemployment in the United States, with women and minorities losing jobs to white males. The Unemployment Relief Act of 1933 was designed to assist with the grinding poverty and desperation of those out of work, and it prohibited discrimination based on sex, race, and national origin. The federal government lacked enforcement mechanisms, however, and employers ignored the law. The National War Labor Board recommended equal wages for women and minorities during World War II; the voluntary program, like the Unemployment Relief Act, found few adherents among private corporations.
While court cases and laws such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 offered some workplace rights and equal pay laws for minorities and women, President Lyndon Johnson's (1908–1973) project, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was the first to provide strong legal protection against workplace discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 words this protection in unambiguous terms, creating government agencies with enforcement powers to attempt an end to racial and gender discrimination in the labor force.
- It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer—
- to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or
- to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
- It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employment agency to fail or refuse to refer for employment, or otherwise to discriminate against, any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, or to classify or refer for employment any individual on the basis of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
- It shall be an unlawful employment practice for a labor organization—
- to exclude or to expel from its membership, or otherwise to discriminate against, any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
- to limit, segregate, or classify its membership or applicants for membership, or to classify or fail or refuse to refer for employment any individual, in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities, or would limit such employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee or as an applicant for employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or
- to cause or attempt to cause an employer to discriminate against an individual in violation of this section.
- It shall be an unlawful employment practice for any employer, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee controlling apprenticeship or other training or retraining, including on-the-job training programs to discriminate against any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in admission to, or employment in, any program established to provide apprenticeship or other training.
- Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to hire and employ employees, for an employment agency to classify, or refer for employment any individual, for a labor organization to classify its membership or to classify or refer for employment any individual, or for an employer, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee controlling apprenticeship or other training or retraining programs to admit or employ any individual in any such program, on the basis of his religion, sex, or national origin in those certain instances where religion, sex, or national origin is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise, and (2) it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for a school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning to hire and employ employees of a particular religion if such school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning is, in whole or in substantial part, owned, supported, controlled, or managed by a particular religion or by a particular religious corporation, association, or society, or if the curriculum of such school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning is directed toward the propagation of a particular religion.
- As used in this subchapter, the phrase "unlawful employment practice" shall not be deemed to include any action or measure taken by an employer, labor organization, joint labor-management committee, or employment agency with respect to an individual who is a member of the Communist Party of the United States or of any other organization required to register as a Communist-action or Communist-front organization by final order of the Subversive Activities Control Board pursuant to the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 [50 U.S.C. 781 et seq.]
- Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire and employ any individual for any position, for an employer to discharge any individual from any position, or for an employment agency to fail or refuse to refer any individual for employment in any position, or for a labor organization to fail or refuse to refer any individual for employment in any position, if—
- the occupancy of such position, or access to the premises in or upon which any part of the duties of such position is performed or is to be performed, is subject to any requirement imposed in the interest of the national security of the United States under any security program in effect pursuant to or administered under any statute of the United States or any Executive order of the President; and
- such individual has not fulfilled or has ceased to fulfill that requirement.
- Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to apply different standards of compensation, or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority or merit system, or a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production or to employees who work in different locations, provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, nor shall it be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to give and to act upon the results of any professionally developed ability test provided that such test, its administration or action upon the results is not designed, intended or used to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It shall not be an unlawful employment practice under this subchapter for any employer to differentiate upon the basis of sex in determining the amount of the wages or compensation paid or to be paid to employees of such employer if such differentiation is authorized by the provisions of section 206(d) of title 29 [section 6(d) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended]
- Nothing contained in this subchapter shall apply to any business or enterprise in or near an Indian reservation with respect to any publicly announced employment practice of such business or enterprise under which a preferential treatment is given to any individual because he is an Indian living on or near a reservation.
- Nothing contained in this subchapter shall be interpreted to require any employer, employment agency, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee subject to this subchapter to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of the race, color, religion, sex, or national origin of such individual or group on account of an imbalance which may exist with respect to the total number or percentage of persons of any race, color, religion, sex, or national origin employed by any employer, referred or classified for employment by any employment agency or labor organization, admitted to membership or classified by any labor organization, or admitted to, or employed in, any apprenticeship or other training program, in comparison with the total number or percentage of persons of such race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in any community, State, section, or other area, or in the available work force in any community, State, section, or other area.
Until such legislation as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII, "Help Wanted" sections of newspapers contained gender-segregated advertisements for jobs. After the passage of Title VII, employers could no longer legally argue that women were inherently too weak for a particular position or that white clientele would refuse to work with an African American salesperson; such actions constituted discrimination in violation of federal law. At the same time, however, the law could not force social change.
Title VII provided worker protection with the backing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Workers in protected classes could file grievances and lawsuits against companies that violated the new law; women and minorities gained legal standing in the courts. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Alta Chrapliwy, a worker in a Uniroyal factory, in the 1982 Chrapliwy v. Uniroyal case. Uniroyal had a highly gender-segregated workforce in the plant, with women in the footwear division and men in other divisions. The Supreme Court found this division of labor to be in violation of Title VII.
Title VII has been expanded over time; in 1986, the Supreme Court case Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson found that women had a right to protection from a "hostile work environment." The justices broadened the definition of sexual harassment and its application to Title VII in this decision, and later revisions to Title VII included protection against discrimination in the work place for pregnancy, disabilities, and age.
Ironically, this sweeping federal legislation does not apply to federal government employees, nor does it apply to most religious and nonprofit organizations. Small businesses employing fewer than fifteen people are exempt as well. The addition of gender as a protected class came about almost as an afterthought. Howard Smith, a congressman from Virginia and friend of Alice Paul (1885–1977)—the founder of the National Women's Party, author of the Equal Rights Amendment, and longtime suffragist—requested that the word "sex" be added to protect women as well. The addition of "sex" to the act generated some discussion, but the act did pass. The EEOC initially stalled on grievances filed on the basis of gender discrimination, in spite of the fact that more than one-third of all grievances filed in the first year fell into that category. In its infancy, the EEOC was forced to both define issues related to discrimination and to determine enforcement strategies.
The EEOC, the act's primary enforcement mechanism, saw its caseload rise to more than 55,000 complaints related to Title VII violations in the year 2005. The primary agency for discrimination complaints, the EEOC has not only monitored legal cases but also helped usher in the social changes resulting from legal protections for female workers, minorities, and naturalized citizens and other immigrants. Those protected under Title VII's expansion changed American society and the landscape of the workplace.
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