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  3. EEOC History: 1980 - 1989

EEOC History: 1980 - 1989

Milestones: 1980

  • In General Telephone Company of the Northwest v. EEOC, the Supreme Court upholds EEOC's authority to seek class wide relief for victims of discrimination, without being restricted by the class action rules applicable to private litigants. The Court emphasizes that when EEOC files suit, it acts to vindicate the "overriding public interest in equal employment opportunity."
  • Resolving one of the five Commissioner charges initiated by the National Programs Division, EEOC and Ford Motor Company sign a conciliation agreement in which Ford provides $23 million in monetary awards to females and minorities who were unlawfully denied promotions or hires. The agreement also provides for various forms of affirmative relief.
  • EEOC issues Interim Guidelines on Sexual Harassment declaring that sex-related intimidation on the job or creating a sexually charged hostile work environment is unlawful under Title VII. Notwithstanding controversy surrounding this issue, the Commission votes to adopt the guidelines.
  • EEOC revises its Guidelines on Discrimination Because of National Origin, stating that bilingual employees have the right to use their native language at the workplace unless the employer has a business necessity for an English only rule. The guidelines also state that employers are liable for harassment in the workplace based on national origin.
  • After years of charges and litigation we know that the exclusion from many jobs accounts for part but not all of the wage gap between minority and white workers and between male and female workers. This Commission has a responsibility to inquire whether another part of the earnings gap is due to discriminatory depression of wages flowing from, specifically, the fact that the jobs are held by minorities and women.

    EEOC Chair Eleanor Holmes Norton

    EEOC holds hearings on job segregation by sex and wage discrimination. Commissioned by EEOC, the National Academy of Sciences publishes "Women, Work, and Wages: Equal Pay for Jobs of Equal Value." The theory of comparable worth is debated within the Commission and in the civil rights community.

  • EEOC contracts for the first time with Tribal Employment Rights Offices (TEROs) and the Council for Tribal Employment Rights to provide technical assistance to Native Americans residing on reservations on their rights under Title VII.
  • In its first full year of responsibility for enforcing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Equal Pay Act (EPA), EEOC sees a huge rise in charge filings. ADEA charge receipts increase from 5,400 to 11,076 and EPA receipts rise from 1,600 to 2,870.


Milestones: 1981

  • In County of Washington v. Gunther, the Supreme Court holds that the Bennett Amendment, which incorporates the four affirmative defenses of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) into Title VII, does not limit Title VII pay discrimination claims to EPA claims. Title VII wage claims can be broader than EPA claims because Title VII, unlike the EPA, is "intended to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women resulting from sex stereotypes."
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) becomes the fastest growing area of EEOC responsibility. The agency resolves its first ADEA lawsuit. The Leo Burnett Company agrees to pay 17 former employees $375,000 in back pay and $10,000 per year in pension adjustments because it forced employees to retire at age 62.
  • EEOC has a reduction in force of approximately 280 positions. Just a few months earlier, many employees transferred from the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Labor to EEOC pursuant to the President's Reorganization Plan No. 1.
  • Through the use of Rapid Charge Processing techniques, the charge inventory is at approximately 20,000 at the end of the year-down from 100,000 three years earlier.
  • President Ronald Reagan appoints J. Clay Smith, Jr. Acting Chairman. The Commission votes to delegate its authority to Acting Chairman Smith so that agency business can be conducted. This is the first time in the agency's history that the Commission delegates its authority to the Chairman because the Commission, due to resignations, lacks a quorum. Smith later becomes Dean of Howard University Law School.


Milestones: 1982

  • In Connecticut v. Teal, the Supreme Court holds that an employer is liable for racial discrimination when any part of its selection process, such as an unvalidated examination or test, has a disparate impact even if the final result of the hiring process is racially balanced. In effect, the Court rejects the "bottom line defense" and makes clear that the fair employment laws protect the individual. The Teal decision means that fair treatment of a group is not a defense to an individual claim of discrimination.
  • The Supreme Court in Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, clarifies the requirements for filing a private lawsuit under Title VII. The Court explains that the timely filing of a charge is not a jurisdictional requirement but like a statute of limitations and therefore is subject to equitable tolling and waivers.
  • The Commission for the first time contracts with Fair Employment Practice Agencies to resolve dual filed Age Discrimination in Employment Act charges.
  • EEOC implements an Expanded Presence Program designed to bring information on fair employment laws to underserved communities. At the same time, field offices substantially increase the number of Voluntary Assistance Programs, seminars held nationwide to explain to employers their responsibilities under agency enforced statutes.
  • President Ronald Reagan nominates and the Senate confirms Clarence Thomas to be Chairman of EEOC. Thomas serves as Chairman of EEOC for eight years -- longer than any other Chairman. President George Bush then selects Thomas to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and two years later nominates him and the Senate confirms Thomas to be an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
    Photo of Chairman Thomas
    Chairman Clarence Thomas


Milestones: 1983

  • The Supreme Court in EEOC v. Wyoming upholds the constitutionality of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act as it applies to state and local governments. The Court rules that state and local governments -- one of the fastest growing employment sectors -- cannot discriminate against employees and job applicants on the basis of their age.
  • The Commission through its litigation activities obtains more than $40 million for victims, the highest monetary recovery in the agency's history. As part of a field reorganization, EEOC closes the Dayton, Ohio area office because of low charge receipts and overall low workload.
  • The Commission votes to change how it investigates charges of discrimination filed with the agency. The Commission states it intends to move away from the rapid charge philosophy with its emphasis on securing quick settlements to a full investigation approach. The Commission declares that more attention to individual claims of discrimination needs to occupy priority standing for a civil rights enforcement agency. Thereafter, EEOC begins to fully investigate every charge of discrimination filed with the agency. If the Commission determines a violation of law, during conciliation it will insist on full relief for the victims. Further, if the agency determines that there is reasonable cause to credit the charge and EEOC is unable to secure full relief for the victims, it is presumed that EEOC will bring an enforcement lawsuit. As part of the agency's new approach, the Commission reviews all conciliation failures and votes on whether to file suit.


Milestone: 1984

  • In EEOC v. Shell Oil Co., the Supreme Court affirms the authority of EEOC's Commissioners to initiate charges of discrimination through "Commissioners Charges."
  • General Motors Corporation (GM) and the United Auto Workers agree to pay $42.4 million to resolve an EEOC Commissioner charge alleging the company engaged in a "pattern and practice" of race and sex discrimination. The settlement also provides that GM will promote a substantial number of minorities and women into managerial jobs as well as recruit minorities and women into high paying apprenticeship and craft programs. The settlement is the largest non-litigated settlement in the history of EEOC to date. EEOC's Systemic Division (formerly National Programs Division) had worked on this matter for over a decade.
    Signing of GM Settlement
    EEOC Chairman Clarence Thomas (center) with Alfred S. Warren (left), General Motors Vice President, Industrial Relations, and William P. McKinnon (right), GM Vice President, Personnel Administration, signing $43 million settlement, October 18, 1983.
  • In Ignacio v. U.S. Postal Service, the Commission, interpreting the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, decides for the first time that a federal agency's duty to reasonably accommodate an individual with a disability includes considering the reassignment of the individual to a new job. In short, if the employer cannot modify the job which the individual was performing, the employer cannot simply terminate the individual but it must consider placing the individual in a different job.


Milestones: 1985

  • Congress amends the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to provide employees' spouses ages 65 through 69 the same treatment under group health plans as employees' spouses under age 65.
  • The Commission issues an administrative decision that polygamy is not a religious practice protected by Title VII.
  • The Commission resolves EEOC v. Allstate Insurance Company through a consent decree. At issue in this Equal Pay case was whether Allstate paid a lower guaranteed minimum salary to females than to males for performing the identical job (sales agent). Under the consent decree, Allstate pays $5 million to approximately 3,200 female victims.
  • The Commission settles a sex discrimination suit against Teachers Insurance and Annuity Equities Fund. This suit results in recalculating pension benefits in a "sex neutral manner" for over 800,000 female workers.


Milestones: 1986

  • In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the Supreme Court for the first time recognizes that sexual harassment is a violation of Title VII. The Court in formulating its opinion, favorably cites EEOC's policy guidance on sexual harassment.
  • After the longest trial in EEOC's history, the trial court rejects EEOC's allegation that Sears Roebuck engaged in a nationwide practice against hiring women into management and sales positions. The court finds weaknesses in the agency's statistical evidence and the testimony of the few women victims. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals later affirms the ruling.
  • Congress approves eliminating the upper age cap of 70 from the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Congress also exempts through December 31, 1993, state and local governments when hiring or retiring firefighters or law enforcement officials from age limitations provided those limitations were in effect in March 1983. Congress also provides that colleges and universities through 1993, may involuntarily retire professors at age 70, if the professor is serving under contracts of unlimited tenure.
  • Congress passes the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) which amends the Immigration and Nationality Act. IRCA states that employers can be sanctioned and fined for hiring illegal aliens. One section of IRCA complements Title VII by prohibiting employers with four to 14 employees from discriminating on the basis of national origin and also prohibits citizenship discrimination.
  • Congress passes the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 amending the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act, and the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit employers from reducing or discontinuing benefit accruals in employees' pension plans based on age.
  • The Commission successfully arranges for the first meeting of the Special Panel established by Reorganization Plan No. 1 to resolve conflicting positions between federal agencies on how EEO laws are to be applied to the federal workforce. Panel No. 1 defers to EEOC, recognizing it as the expert authority on equal employment law, and adopts EEOC's position that federal employers must consider reassignment as part of their obligation to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities.
  • EEOC adopts the Investigative Compliance Policy which addresses situations where respondents have been uncooperative in providing information during an investigation of a charge. Under this policy, if a respondent fails to turn over requested information, field offices are to subpoena the information, file a direct suit on the merits of a charge, or use the legal principle of "adverse inference" thereby assuming the withheld information is unfavorable to the respondent.
  • EEOC organizes the first Federal Dispute Resolution Conference. Decision makers from six federal agencies join forces to present a two day seminar on resolving employee disputes in the Federal Government.
  • The Commission's toll-free telephone number becomes operational. Callers anywhere in the country can now call this number and be connected to the nearest EEOC office even if there is no office in their own state or immediate area. Information is provided in both English and Spanish. The current toll free number is 1-800-669-4000. EEOC's toll free TTY number is 1-800-669-6820.


Milestones: 1987

  • In Johnson v. Transportation Agency, Santa Clara County, the Supreme Court explains the requirements for a lawful voluntary affirmative action plan. The Court explains that in order for an affirmative action plan to be valid, an employer must show a conspicuous under representation of minorities or women in traditionally segregated job categories and that the plan does not unnecessarily restrict the rights of male or non-minority employees, or create an absolute barrier to their advancement.
  • EEOC sponsors its largest single outreach effort, a six hour interactive Satellite Teleconference permitting viewers to call in their questions live to Commissioners and the General Counsel. The telecast is broadcast to 50 sites across the country with an audience of approximately 5,000 individuals. In addition to video simulations of actual charges covering race, national origin, age, and sexual harassment, there are taped messages on fair employment laws from President Ronald Reagan; Senator John Heinz, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aging; and Congressman Claude Pepper, Chairman of the House Committee on Aging.
  • Following EEOC's decision in the federal sector case Doviak v. Dept of Navy, the Secretary of the Navy announces a change in policy, providing that female civilian employees will be allowed to participate in sea trials on the same basis as males.
  • President Ronald Reagan nominates and the Senate confirms Evan J. Kemp to be a Commissioner of EEOC. He is the first person with a disability to serve on the Commission.
  • President Ronald Reagan appoints and the Senate confirms Joy Cherian to be an EEOC Commissioner and he is quickly confirmed by the Senate. Cherian is the first Asian American to serve on the Commission.
  • For the first time in agency history, virtually all investigators received comprehensive training at a conference in Dallas. The training addresses the entire investigative process from intake to determination. Approximately 800 investigators are trained.


Milestones: 1988

  • Congress passes the Age Discrimination Claims Assistance Act of 1988 (ADCAA) thereby reinstating the rights of Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) charging parties to file a private lawsuit beyond the two or three year statute of limitations for an additional 540 days (18 months). This Congressional extension permits EEOC to complete the administrative processing of backlogged ADEA charges while the charging party retains his or her right to file a lawsuit.
  • The Supreme Court in EEOC v. Commercial Office Products, clarifies the relationship between EEOC and state and local Fair Employment Practice Agencies (FEPAs). The Court holds that a FEPA's decision to waive Title VII's 60-day deferral period pursuant to a worksharing agreement "terminates" state proceedings and permits EEOC immediately to deem the charge filed and begin processing. The Court also rules that a charging party who files a charge that is untimely under state law is nonetheless entitled to Title VII's longer 300 day federal filing period rather than the180 day period.
  • The Supreme Court in Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust, in a unanimous opinion, declares that the disparate impact analysis can be applied to subjective or discretionary selection practices. In the past, the Court had applied disparate impact only to tests and other presumptively objective practices.
  • The Commission resolves a record 540 lawsuits either through litigation or settlement securing approximately $55 million for the victims of discrimination.


Milestones: 1989

  • The Supreme Court in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins establishes how to analyze an employer's actions when the employer has mixed motivations for the employment decision, i.e., the employer was motivated by a legitimate reason and also by an unlawful reason such as unlawful race or sex bias. The Court holds that if a plaintiff shows that discrimination played a motivating part in an employment decision, the employer can attempt to prove, as a complete affirmative defense, that it would have made the same employment decision even if discrimination were not a factor.
  • In Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Antonio, the Supreme Court rules that when a plaintiff makes a showing of a disparate impact violation of Title VII, he must do so by demonstrating that specific practices (and not the cumulative effect of the employer's selection practices) adversely affected a protected group. Further, the Court holds that when a showing of disparate impact is made, the employer only has to produce evidence of a business justification for the practice, and that the burden of proof always remains with the employee.
  • In Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio v. Betts, the Supreme Court rejects EEOC's position that a benefit plan that denied disability benefits to employees over the age of 60 at the time of retirement violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Instead, the Supreme Court rules that the ADEA does not prohibit discrimination in employment benefit plans, as long as the benefit plan is not a means to discriminate in some "non-fringe" benefit aspect of employment. In short, the Court holds that the ADEA's prohibition against age discrimination does not apply to employee fringe benefits in most circumstances.
  • The Supreme Court in Lorance v. AT&T Technologies decides when a charging party must file a discrimination charge if the charging party is challenging a seniority system neutral (and non-discriminatory) on its face. The Court holds that the time in which a facially neutral seniority system can be challenged runs from the adoption of the alleged discriminatory system. The Court rejects EEOC's position that the limitations period begins to run only when the employee is adversely affected by the seniority system. Lorrance is the first EEOC case in which the agency's General Counsel, Charles Shanor, is permitted to argue in the United States Supreme Court.
  • EEOC Headquarters moves to a newly constructed building at 1801 L Street, NW, in the heart of downtown Washington, D.C.
  • EEOC contracts with 53 Tribal Employment Rights Offices (TEROs) to protect the employment rights of Native Americans working for private employers on or near an Indian reservation. The TEROs attempt to settle charges of employment discrimination brought under Title VII as well as under tribal ordinances. The TEROs secure more than 15 million dollars for Native American victims of discrimination.
  • EEOC and the Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate processing of charges alleging national origin or citizenship discrimination.