Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

  • May 7, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Fatima Goss Graves & Amy K. Matsui, National Women's Law Center

    This week the Senate HELP Committee will vote on the nomination of Thomas Perez to be the next Secretary of Labor.   In the midst of the many unfair and unfounded attacks lobbed against Mr. Perez in recent weeks, an important legal doctrine for combating sex discrimination has also come under attack: disparate impact. Under Mr. Perez’s leadership as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, the Department has employed the longstanding disparate impact analysis to combat employment discrimination.  Its application is not only legally sound, but exceptionally important to eliminate discrimination and further justice.

    The Supreme Court and Congress have long made clear that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act “prohibits employers from using employment practices that cause a disparate impact” based on sex and other protected classes. The doctrine of disparate impact allows for a remedy when an employment practice that may be neutral on its face has an unjustified adverse effect on members of a protected class.

    Disparate impact has been crucial to addressing entrenched discriminatory employment practices.  Indeed, women’s entry into high-wage, nontraditional occupations has been made possible in large part by challenges to unfortunate employment practices that disproportionately disadvantage women, which would have otherwise remained unchanged but for the Title VII’s disparate impact doctrine.  Courts, for example, have struck down height, weight or strength requirements implemented by employers in police departments, fire departments, in construction and in correctional facilities because the requirements were not related to job performance, but instead reflected stereotypes about the skills required for a position.  Moreover, there are often alternative practices that may both satisfy job performance demands and allow for a diverse workforce.

  • April 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Once again lawmakers in Congress have introduced legislation intended to advance equality for LGBT people, this time with a few more Republicans on board and in an atmosphere of heightened public support.

    The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would prohibit employers from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. As noted earlier this week, other variations of ENDA have languished in past congressional sessions. But the effort – to outlaw employment discrimination of LGBT people – is integral to advancing equality. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering cases involving marriage equality and nine states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Rhode Island and Delaware state lawmakers are considering legislation to allow same-sex couples to wed. (Rhode Island’s Senate has approved a marriage equality bill.)

    So while there has been positive movement on marriage equality -- though a setback could be forthcoming depending on the how the Roberts Court handles the cases before it – efforts to bar employment discrimination against LGBT persons have seen more mixed results. As the ACLU notes more than 30 states include laws that fail to provide LGBT people solid protection from employment discrimination.

    But Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in a press statement announcing the introduction of ENDA sounded an upbeat note, saying that “bipartisan coalitions” in both chambers are supporting the measure. Merkley’s statement concludes, “In a sign of the growing momentum to end discrimination against LGBT Americans, the Senate sponsors expect the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee” to take action on the legislation in this Congress.

    The ACLU, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center issued a statement today concluding, in part, that in a “country that values fairness and equal treatment under the law, we believe the current situation is unacceptable.” That situation centers on the fact that there remain far too many states without protections against employment discrimination of LGBT people.

  • March 12, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While President Obama has advanced some eloquent calls for expanding equality, his administration must take more action to ensure equality in the workforce, according to a new ACS Issue Brief.

    Landmark measures such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and President Lyndon Johnson’s executive order banning federal contractors from employment discrimination have been undermined by federal judges far too eager to protect the rights of employers, write Ellen Eardley and Cyrus Mehri in “Defending Twentieth Century Equal Employment Reforms in the Twenty-First Century.” 

    Citing Simon Lazarus, an attorney with the Constitutional Accountability Center, Eardley and Mehri write that lower federal court judges “have been ‘aggressively activist in narrowing, undermining, and effectively nullifying an array of progressive statutes,’ including statutes involving civil rights and affirmative action.” Eardley and Mehri, attorneys with Mehri & Skalet, PLLC, also note that former federal court judge Nancy Gertner has “recently declared that ‘changes in substantive discrimination law since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [are] tantamount to a virtual repeal.’”

    The authors also cite a study from the Harvard Law & Policy Review, the official journal of ACS, which reveals data showing that from 1979 through 2007 judges have increasingly sided with employers in employment discrimination cases and that the rare victories for workers are frequently invalidated at the appellate level. The study by Stewart J. Schwab and Kevin Clermont “found that the anti-plaintiff effect on appeal particularly disturbing because employment discrimination cases are fact-intensive and often turn on the credibility of witnesses.”

    And it’s not just the lower courts that have made it difficult for workers to challenge employer malfeasance, the authors add, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has issued opinions making it tougher to bring class actions claims and providing federal courts with greater power to quickly dismiss workers’ employment discrimination cases.

    “The Draconian view of Title VII, distortion of the basic principles of civil procedure, and the new hurdles to class certification adopted by the federal judiciary make it difficult for employees to vindicate their rights,” Eardley and Mehri write.

  • November 19, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Sarah Crawford, Director of Workplace Fairness, National Partnership for Women & Families


    Later this term, the Supreme Court will decide the case of Vance v. Ball State, a case that will have critical implications for the ability of our nation’s civil rights laws to root out unlawful workplace harassment. At issue in the case is the meaning of “supervisor” and whether employers may be held vicariously liable for harassment committed by supervisors who have the authority to direct and oversee employees’ work, as compared to those who have the authority to hire or fire.  The Court’s decision will have important ramifications for the ability of victims of supervisor harassment to hold their employers accountable. 

    With so much at stake, the National Partnership for Women & Families led a group of ten top civil and workers’ rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in Vance that calls on the Court to reject an overly restrictive definition of supervisor that is limited to those with the authority to make “tangible” employment decisions like hiring and firing. Quite simply, this definition does not reflect the realities of the workplace or the Court’s previously demonstrated understanding of what it means to be a supervisor. 

    Petitioner Maetta Vance worked at Ball State University as a catering assistant for the university’s dining services department when she was harassed by an employee that she considered to be a supervisor with the authority to direct and oversee her work. Vance alleges that, as a result of the harassment and physical intimidation she suffered, she lived and worked in a constant state of fear. Despite her complaints to the university, the harassment persisted.