50 for 50: Five Decades of the Most Important Discrimination Law Developments

Number 2: In 1972, The Law Expands and the EEOC Enters Litigation as a Party

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 obviously broke new ground but advocates of the law recognized the immediate need to expand its scope and authority.  After three unsuccessful attempts and eight years, Congress passed the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, which amended the law in several key ways.

First, the amendment substantially broadened the definition of covered employers to include millions of additional employees protected from discrimination.  By this amendment, educational institutions, state and local governments and the federal government became subject to Title VII.  Further, the minimum size of an employer covered by Title VII was reduced from 25 employees to 15 employees, also increasing the number of covered employers and employees.

Second, the amendment gave the EEOC the power to litigate cases as a party (except against government entities).  No longer was the EEOC limited to investigating charges and attempting to broker a conciliation agreement when the agency believed discrimination had occurred.  The EEOC could enforce the law directly by stepping into the shoes of the aggrieved party and bring the weight of the federal government into the dispute as the plaintiff.

As a consequence of this change, the EEOC started to brings lawsuits against high profile employers and when discriminatory pattern and practices were identified.  Although the number of filed lawsuits and recovered damages has declined in recent years, in 2013, the EEOC filed 148 lawsuits (under all laws, including Title VII) and recovered a little over $38M in settlements and judgments as the plaintiff.  For comparison, the EEOC filed 421 lawsuits in 2004 and recovered $168M in that year – the most active year in the last fifteen.

In this amendment, Congress clearly sent the message that the EEOC was going to be an active agency with a broad reach into this country’s places of employment.

- John Baum

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