While many in the U.S. take employment discrimination protection for granted, the reality is that these protections are relatively recent in terms of our country’s history. Most anti-discrimination laws draw their inspiration from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, more specifically from Title VII. While it does not include every protection one can think of, it was the first major step in protecting most marginalized groups from discrimination in employment.
Title VII Not Without Critics
At the time of its proposal, the protections put forth in Title VII were considered highly unusual, especially the specific provision barring gender or sex discrimination. That and the implicit assumption that Title VII would be used to protect “subversive groups” such as Communist sympathizers almost caused the title to be scrapped before the Civil Rights Act was passed. Eventually a specific amendment was carved out to exclude them from protections, which is still in effect today, though almost never enforced. Title VII was passed by a vote of 71-29, though not before extensive filibustering.
When it was passed, Title VII did leave out some classifications that are considered commonplace today. For example, sexual harassment was not strongly enforced until a series of court decisions in the early 1980s equated it with sex discrimination. Pregnancy discrimination was not addressed at all; women were simply expected to work around the issue.
1991: Trials and Damages
It was not until 1991 that the Act gained proverbial teeth. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 was passed in response to reports of workers who had obtained judgments against their employer but had received no substantive amelioration of their situation. The Act modified previously dormant or inapplicable rights to allow discrimination cases to be decided via trial by jury. Title VII had previously only permitted trial by the court and equitable remedies (for example, getting one’s job back or enjoining one’s employer against further discriminatory action).
This has made a substantial difference in the ability of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to use Title VII to protect the rights of U.S. workers. While equitable remedies are helpful in some cases, there are some in which punitive measures are necessary. Also, this decision has enabled the EEOC to use discrimination lawsuits as a springboard of sorts to helping enact more protections. In 2012, an internal decision held for the first time that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited under Title VII, and in 2014, the EEOC mounted two lawsuits against different employers on that basis. It remains to be seen the direction in which employment discrimination law will go, but Title VII is still the cornerstone of the majority of suits of this nature.
Get Help From an Employment Discrimination Attorney
If you believe you have an employment discrimination claim, it is generally a good idea to investigate whether it may be covered under Title VII due to its wide scope of protection. Consulting an attorney can help answer your questions. A. Christopher Potts and his firm of Hitchcock & Potts will work with you to help determine your best path going forward.
Contact our Charleston, SC offices today to set up an initial appointment.