End of the 1980s Leaves EEOC to Face New Challenges
The new enforcement policies and procedures adopted by the
Commission in 1983 focused on obtaining effective redress for every
individual victim of discrimination. The Commission decided that
its civil rights law enforcement responsibility required that EEOC
fully investigate all charges before making any attempts at
resolution. Moreover, the new policy stated that where EEOC found
reasonable cause that discrimination occurred, but could not secure
full relief through conciliation, it should be presumed that EEOC
would litigate. Under the new policy, the Commission reviewed all
conciliation failures to determine whether suit should be filed.
Charging parties also were given the opportunity to seek a
headquarters review of those decisions where EEOC found that no
discrimination had occurred. Consequently, these procedures were
both time and resource intensive.
Ironically, while the Commission was revamping its charge
processing procedures to spend more time and money on individual
charges of discrimination, EEOC's charge inventory was exploding
primarily as a result of EEOC's increased enforcement authority.
During the 1980s, more than 683,000 discrimination charges were
received, as compared to approximately 446,000 in the previous
decade. Annual charge receipts rose from about 35,000 in 1979 to a
high of 72,000 in 1985, and remained high throughout the rest of
In addition, budgets provided by Congress did not meet the
demand for more staff and resources to handle the exploding
workload. Indeed, as a result of Congressional budgets not keeping
pace with inflationary costs, EEOC was forced to undergo severe
staff reductions leading to an even larger charge backlog.
Specifically, while the Commission had 3,752 authorized positions
in 1979, its authorized staff was reduced to 2,941 positions by
To make matters worse, the trend of Supreme Court cases
upholding and expanding Commission interpretations changed sharply
at the end of the 1980s. Indeed, the Commission's positions were
discounted in both Public Employees
Retirement System of Ohio v. Betts (1989) and Lorrance v. AT&T
Technologies (1989). Moreover, other cases decided by the
Supreme Court in 1989, such as Price Waterhouse v.
Hopkins (1989) and Wards Cove Packing
Co. v. Antonio (1989), were widely viewed as limiting the
rights of individuals by making it more difficult to prove
violations of employment discrimination laws. Fortunately, Congress
responded quickly to these decisions in the ensuing decade.