Enforcement Efforts in the 1980s
- Expanding the Rights of Women in the Workplace
During the 1980s, EEOC continued to receive unprecedented and increasing numbers of sex discrimination charges, receiving almost 180,000 charges during this decade. As charge activity rose, so too did the number and significance of Commission resolutions. Here is a sampling.
A 1980 settlement with Westinghouse Electric Corporation resulted in abolition of discriminatory pregnancy and maternity-leave policies, and provided $305,000 in back pay, restoration of lost seniority, and service credits for affected employees. The agreement also eliminated many discriminatory pregnancy and maternity practices, including termination, loss of pay, and loss of reinstatement and rehire rights.
One new focus of employment discrimination law during this decade was in the area of sexual harassment. EEOC issued its first Guidelines on Sexual Harassment in 1980. In the Guidelines, the Commission declared that sexual harassment was prohibited sex discrimination under Title VII and provided definitions of two types of sexual harassment: (1) quid pro quo (in which employment decisions are conditioned upon the grant of sexual favors); and (2) hostile work environment (in which unwelcome sexual conduct rises to the level where it affects the workplace environment). The Guidelines held employers responsible for not only their specific acts, but also for the acts of their supervisory employees or agents. Six years later, the Supreme Court largely followed the Commission’s guidelines in Meritor v. Vinson (1986). The Commission issued additional guidance in 1989 on employer liability for sexual harassment. This guidance addressed the issue of the circumstances under which an employer is liable for the actions of its supervisory personnel, and provided that under certain circumstances, employers were vicariously liable for such actions.
- Early Aims at Eliminating Systemic Discrimination Generally
During the early 1980s, the Commission resolved many of the systemic investigations started in the previous decade. Moreover, EEOC continued to focus much of its enforcement efforts on eliminating discriminatory employment systems that operated to exclude racial and ethnic minorities and women. Indeed, EEOC was successful in obtaining substantial, widely publicized relief for many victims of discrimination. Significantly, the affirmative relief required by many of these resolutions helped to motivate appreciable changes in other employers’ practices. Some examples include:
In 1980, EEOC signed a conciliation agreement with the Ford Motor Company, which provided $23 million in monetary awards to minorities and women who had suffered discrimination in hiring and promotion and provided significant forms of affirmative relief.
- Broadening Protections for Older Workers
Age discrimination in employment became an important focus for the Commission in the 1980s. During the first full year of EEOC’s enforcement of the ADEA, charge receipts alleging age discrimination increased by more than 300 percent, from about 1,600 charges filed in 1979 to almost 6,700 charges in 1980. By 1981, age discrimination was the fastest growing area of EEOC enforcement. The growth in ADEA charge receipts continued throughout the 1980s, as corporate downsizing became increasingly prevalent in America’s workplaces and older workers were being separated in record numbers.
EEOC responded to the increase in ADEA charge receipts by winning substantial remedies for victims. Some examples include:
A 1980 consent decree with Leo Burnett Company resolved EEOC’s first ADEA lawsuit. The company agreed to pay $375,000 in back pay to 17 former employees, as well as to provide pension adjustments because the advertising agency had forced the employees to retire at age 62.
Combating Discrimination for Immigrants and National Origin Minorities
In 1980, EEOC revised its Guidelines on National Origin Discrimination to clarify the rights of employees to use their native tongue at the workplace, prohibiting blanket English-only rules and permitting limited rules only upon a showing of business necessity. The Guidelines also state that employers are liable for harassment in the workplace based on national origin.
When Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which amended the Immigration and Nationality Act, EEOC increased its efforts to combat national origin discrimination. IRCA contained provisions stating that employers could be sanctioned and fined for knowingly hiring undocumented workers. Some employers, in an effort to avoid violating IRCA’s immigration rules, simply discriminated against all workers who were foreign- looking, had foreign accents, or had foreign-sounding names by refusing to hire them. As a result, many employees, especially in border states, were in effect denied employment because of their national origin. In 1989, EEOC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices to coordinate processing of charges alleging national origin or citizenship discrimination. The agencies also jointly published easy to understand booklets for both employers and workers, explaining the nondiscrimination requirements under Title VII and IRCA.