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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 the decade.

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 1987.

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.

Next: The 1990s

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