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By Stacey Petersen*


Being a product of the South, I've always had an interest in widening opportunities available to minorities. My parents instilled in me the belief that if I fought hard enough, I could compete on an even playing field with everyone else. This is partially what drove me to be one of the first black students to integrate at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1954, the Supreme Court had ordered that white-only schools be desegregated. It was a chance for me to help expand the opportunities that were open to black students in the late '50s. I hoped others would follow in my footsteps and take advantage of this opportunity.


My formal involvement in employment law began in 1965. Fresh out of graduate school, my first job was pursuing a building-trade apprenticeship for the Adolph Institute. This was mainly a project to help minority women in the South gain entry into professional occupations. From the apprenticeship program, I was appointed by President Carter as Assistant Secretary in the Labor Department from 1977 - 1981.


While I worked for the Labor Department, Eleanor Holmes Norton was the Chairwoman of the EEOC. The EEOC was trying to handle tremendous expectations from complainants. Along with these expectations came a tremendous backlog. Ms. Norton did a tremendous job at reducing this backlog. In my opinion, the EEOC was trying to make a vehicle flexible enough to resolve a wide range of issues. However, society was not equipped to respond to the wide experience of discrimination. This often seems to be the problem with any regulatory agency. I don't think the government had any idea that Title VII would result in as wide of use as it did.

While the Labor Department did handle cases from the EEOC, I wasn't directly involved with these cases. My experience was that people had mixed results with the agency. Some were satisfied with their outcomes, while others were not. When I left the Labor Department in l981, the EEOC was just starting to get a good handle on the tremendous backlog. Since 1981, I have been in the private sector working for consulting firms. I have been with Lehman Brothers since 1985 and still work there today.


The EEOC has helped widen employment opportunities for both women and minorities. Even today, the EEOC continues to be a place where issues of job discrimination can be heard. The demand has been so large, and the pool has expanded ten-fold since Title VII was passed in 1964. 1 believe the major task for the future of the EEOC is to be able to provide sufficient staff and personnel to handle the case demand.

  • Stacey Petersen is a candidate for a Master of Arts Degree with a specialization in Legal Studies at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

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