If you're an employed woman, Buddhist, African-American, immigrant or other minority, then you may have Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to thank for your employment opportunities. Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, is the single biggest historical event to affect diversity in the workplace, clearing the way for minorities to find equal employment opportunities after untold years of discrimination.
The History of Title VII
Title VII was part of the one of the most hotly-debated pieces of legislation in the U.S. Senate's history. The Civil Rights Act, which desegregated public and private institutions across the nation, was nearly arguably 100 years in the making, offering equal protections under the law to racial minorities as well as women. As part of the Civil Rights Act, Title VII was only one of the 500 amendments proposed to the bill, which was debated in Congress for a nearly unprecedented 534 hours. Title VII brought about the creation of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a bipartisan commission intended to eliminate employment discrimination deemed unlawful under the act.
The Next Step
Though Title VII was considered ground-breaking legislation, the law took years to create a level playing field for minorities in the work force. It was met with stiff resistance from many employers, resulting in huge backlogs of complaints to the newly-formed EEOC, and the enactment of state laws created to subvert the legislation. By 1972, Congress was forced to acknowledge the limitations of the original legislation, and passed the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, which gave the EEOC litigation authority and required educational institutions and government employers, up to this point exempted, to follow the Title VII legislation.
While the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 eradicated the final legal barriers to equal employment for minorities in the U.S., simply making discrimination illegal proved to be too little. Enter affirmative action -- federal mandates that sought to compel employers to create a more diverse workplace by implementing strategies to recruit minorities. Although language spelling out affirmative action directives for federal contractors had been in place since the early 1960s, and were supported by President Lyndon Johnson as part of the Title VII legislation, the biggest push for affirmative action hiring policies came in the wake of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. From the early 1970s onward, affirmative action became a requirement for federal contractors and a suggestion for other employers as well.
Changing Times, Changing Workplaces
As times have changed, so have interpretations of Title VII. The term "sex" in Title VII legislation has increasingly been interpreted as a statement on gender issues not considered at the time of the bill's passage, including those related to homosexual, transgender or transsexual members of the work force. Discussions about prohibiting discrimination against these classes go on.
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