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The 1970s: The "Toothless Tiger" Gets Its Teeth - A New Era of Enforcement


In 1971, Congress conducted public hearings on proposed amendments to Title VII and concluded that although "EEOC has made an heroic attempt to reduce the incidence of employment discrimination in the nation . . . employment discrimination is even more pervasive and tenacious than . . . Congress had assumed . . . [when] it passed the l964 Act." As a result of the hearings, Congress found widespread discrimination in both the private and public sectors; little progress by blacks, Hispanics, and women in any occupational field; continued concentration of all these groups in the lowest paid positions and in the lowest paid industries; discrimination and exclusion of these same groups from higher paid jobs and occupations; and significant pay disparities traced to such discrimination. Congress became convinced that the original scheme, relying on conciliation and voluntary compliance, was inadequate.

Based on these findings, Congress passed the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of l972 to provide the Commission with litigation authority to back up its administrative findings and to expand the Commission's jurisdiction. The major provisions of the Act were:

  • EEOC received litigation authority to sue nongovernmental "respondents" employers unions, and employment agencies;
  • EEOC could file pattern or practice lawsuits;
  • Title VII coverage was expanded to include the Federal Government and state and local governments, as well as elementary, secondary, and higher educational institutions;
  • The number of employees needed for Title VII coverage over employers was reduced from 25 to15; and
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinating Council was established, composed of EEOC, the Departments of Justice and Labor, the Civil Service Commission, and the Civil Rights Commission to "maximize effort, promote efficiency, and eliminate conflict, competition, duplication and inconsistency" among the various federal programs.

The 1972 Act inaugurated a new era of enforcement for the Commission, and the decade of the l970s as a whole saw significant progress in the development of employment discrimination law, expanded EEOC authority, legal protections extended to millions of persons, and the elimination of many discriminatory practices. The "tiger" was no longer "toothless." However, EEOC's greatly expanded jurisdiction, coupled with its outreach and enforcement successes, also created a daunting challenge an overwhelming tide of discrimination charges which deluged the agency, mounting every year and culminating in a backlog of 94,700 unresolved charges by 1977.

Next: Focusing Enforcement Efforts on Systemic Discrimination

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