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Focusing Enforcement Efforts on Systemic Discrimination

With its new enforcement authority and with the Supreme Court's Griggs decision recognizing the disparate impact theory of discrimination, the Commission decided to take on large employers and institutions thought to be discriminating in a systemic manner. Accordingly in 1973, EEOC established task forces to investigate four of the country's largest employers General Electric, General Motors, Ford, and Sears Roebuck. The Commission used its powers under Title VII to file "commissioner charges" against these employers. Following lengthy investigations and negotiations, EEOC achieved settlements which provided substantial monetary relief for classes of victims, elimination of discriminatory systems, and affirmative remedies, including hiring and promotion goals and timetables for specified job categories. In 1978, the first nationwide conciliation agreement with General Electric provided $29.4 million in back pay and benefits to minority and female workers and set hiring and promotion goals for most salaried jobs.

EEOC Chair Powell, Attorney Generel Saxbe and Labor Secretary Brennan
EEOC Chair Powell, Attorney General Saxbe and Labor Secretary Brennan discuss settlement with steel companies.
In 1974, in conjunction with the Departments of Labor and Justice, EEOC filed suit against the nation's nine largest steel producers and the major steelworkers union for discriminatory hiring, promotion, assignment, and wage policies affecting minorities and women. Five and a half months later, a consent decree provided nearly $31 million in back pay to be distributed to some 40,000 employees. The companies and unions also agreed to goals and timetables, including hiring women and minorities for half of the openings in trade and craft jobs, and 25 percent of the vacancies in supervisory jobs. The agreement provided that job access would be determined on the basis of plant seniority, rather than departmental seniority, thereby eliminating a substantial hurdle for those who had been unfairly excluded from favored job lines.

Other significant examples of EEOC's litigation settlements involving systemic discrimination and affirmative relief during the 1970s include:

  • A 1976 consent decree with United Airlines, which provided more than $1 million in back pay and broad affirmative relief, settling a lawsuit alleging race, national origin, and sex discrimination in the company's higher-paying jobs. The settlement provided for aggressive movement of minorities and women into upper-level jobs, including pilot, mechanic, agent, and management positions. The decree also provided for retroactive company-wide seniority, which replaced a former departmental seniority system, to protect rights of minority and female workers transferring into more desirable jobs.
  • A 1977 consent decree ending a lawsuit against Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, which alleged discrimination against Hispanics and blacks through the use of invalid tests, non-job-related high-school diploma requirements, and arrest record inquiries. The decree provided for the elimination of discriminatory practices and other affirmative relief. In addition, the five-year decree required hiring at a rate 25 percent above the representation of each minority group in the labor force until goals were reached in specified job categories.
  • A l977 consent decree with Duquesne Light Company, which settled several lawsuits alleging that the company and several unions discriminated against blacks and women in hiring, job placement, promotion, compensation, and termination. The decree provided $1.7 million in back pay and remedial programs for 300 black and/or female employees, former employees, and applicants. The company also agreed to invest $850,000 in remedial measures, including affirmative recruitment and EEO training for its managers.
  • In a l979 consent decree, Bechtel Corp., the nation's largest construction company, agreed to provide $1.375 million in back pay to current and former female employees and to take other measures to improve their future job opportunities. The decree resolved two class action lawsuits alleging sex discrimination in initial job assignments, promotional opportunities, and under-classification of jobs.

Next: Supreme Court in the 1970s

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