by Veronica Joice, Fried Frank Fellow, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
*Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.
Veronica Joice wrote a special introduction for ACSBlog:
This year, we honor the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As we take time to recognize the work that went into getting the Act passed, and the important precedents set by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and others who litigated Title VII cases in the years immediately following the Act’s passage, we also must look to the future, and recognize the continuing need for Title VII litigation to challenge a plethora of discriminatory employment practices.
Title VII, one of the key components of the Civil Rights Act, outlawed employment discrimination for nearly all employers and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Today, unfortunately, Title VII is just as important a tool for combatting discrimination as it was 50 years ago. Many black employees continue to face explicit race- and color-based discrimination, as in the case of Nicole Cogdell, a top-performing manager at a national retail chain who was fired after company executives expressed concern that, as an African American, Nicole did not fit the company’s “brand image.” In other cases, African Americans never even have the opportunity to become managers at their jobs—the EEOC African American Workgroup, created in 2010, found that African-American employees were less likely to be offered supervisory opportunities than white males, which hindered their ability to later receive promotions to management-level positions. And, perhaps most tellingly, the unemployment rate for African Americans is consistently no less than double that of whites—10.7 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, as of June 2014.
These examples leave no doubt that, from cases involving blatant racism to those where seemingly neutral policies effectively close many African Americans out of the job market, racial discrimination persists in the workplace today. For every case like Nicole Cogdell’s, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are excluded from employment opportunities due to poor performance on a test that has no bearing on the applicant’s ability to perform the required work or by an employer’s review of credit history before making a job offer. LDF helped set the precedent that states that such facially neutral policies are discriminatory and unlawful if they disproportionately exclude African American job applicants. Today, LDF continues to challenge both overt and hidden forms of discrimination, including recently testifying in support of legislation to limit the use of credit checks in hiring. During this year of reflection, we must remember that Title VII’s work is not done—employment discrimination lives on, and there are still precedents to be set.