1965 - 1971: A "Toothless Tiger" Helps Shape the Law and
Educate the Public
EEOC began operations officially July 2, 1965 one year after the
passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its chairman and four commissioners
had been confirmed by the Senate only one month before. A small
staff of about 100, detailed mostly from other federal agencies,
was confronted on opening day with an instant backlog of nearly
1,000 complaints, called "charges" in the parlance of the new law.
Most of the charges had been forwarded by the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund, which had
worked with a coalition of civil rights groups for passage of the
new law. New charges of employment discrimination filed with EEOC
mounted rapidly. Although it had been estimated that 2,000 charges
of discrimination would be filed in the first year, 8,852 charges
|EEOC Chairman Franklin D.
While the Commission attempted to process and respond to these
charges, it also was struggling to hire more staff and develop
basic procedures to process the charges. Moreover, in these early
years, EEOC was forced to confront the many substantive and
procedural issues raised by the new law. A young EEOC attorney
remembers the first year as "hectic, exhilarating and exhausting.
Before we could even think of trying to conciliate charges of
discrimination, we had to devise a filing system, determine which
complaints appeared to be valid charges . . ., what further
information was needed for a determination . . ., which charges
should be investigated, by whom and in what manner."
Because of its lack of enforcement powers, most civil rights
groups viewed the Commission as a "toothless tiger." Nevertheless,
EEOC made significant contributions to equal employment opportunity
between 1965 and 1971 by using the powers it had to help define
discrimination in the workplace. Indeed, in these early years, EEOC
developed the basic procedural and substantive parameters of equal
employment opportunity (EEO) law within a broad Congressional
framework. By documenting the nature and extent of employers'
discriminatory practices, EEOC helped to identify some of the most
egregious employment practices. Through conciliations and by
assisting private litigants in federal court through its robust
amicus curiae program (in which EEOC filed "friend of the court"
briefs interpreting the law), EEOC obtained redress for thousands
of individual workers who had been victims of discrimination.
Employment Discrimination Law