Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (CRA) thereby overruling several Supreme Court decisions rendered in the late 1980s that had made it more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail in their employment discrimination suits and to recover fees and costs when they won their lawsuits. The CRA amends procedurally and substantively Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The amendments provide for the first time that the parties can request jury trials and that successful plaintiffs can recover compensatory and punitive damages in intentional employment discrimination cases. The CRA also expands Title VII's protections to include Congressional and high level political appointees and eliminates the two and three year statute of limitations period for filing private lawsuits under the ADEA.
The Supreme Court decides International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls and addresses the issue of fetal hazards. In this case, the employer barred women of childbearing age from certain jobs due to potential harm that could occur to a fetus. The Court rules that the employer's restriction against fertile women performing "dangerous jobs" constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. The Court further rules that the employer's fetal protection policy could be justified only if being able to bear children was a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the job. The fact that the job posed risk to fertile women does not justify barring all fertile women from the position.
The Supreme Court in Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane rules that an individual who has signed an agreement to arbitrate employment disputes with his or her employer cannot proceed with an Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) lawsuit in court but must instead submit the dispute to an arbitrator. This decision differs from the Court's earlier decision in Alexander v. Gardner-Denver, where the court held that an employee could proceed with a Title VII lawsuit even though the union which he belonged to had agreed in a collective bargaining agreement to submit discrimination disputes to arbitration.
The Commission publishes proposed regulations and an interpretive appendix explaining the requirements of the Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) one year before the ADA is to become effective.
AT&T Technologies agrees to pay $66 million, the largest recovery in the agency's history, as a result of an EEOC lawsuit. The Commission alleged AT&T discriminated on the basis of pregnancy by forcing employees to take leave before medically necessary and failing to guarantee a return to their position following pregnancy leave on the same basis as other temporary disabilities.
Beginning early this year, Commission representatives testify at eight Congressional hearings over the next 15 months.
Former EEOC Chairman Clarence Thomas is nominated by President George Bush to be an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result of issues raised in his confirmation hearings, the issue of sexual harassment becomes better understood by the public. The Senate confirms Thomas.