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The Law

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but its mission has been shaped by more than this one single piece of legislation. Numerous laws and amendments, and a handful of executive orders, have expanded, limited or directed the Commission's responsibilities and authority. Some of the most significant are collected here.

For historical reasons, these are presented as originally passed by Congress or issued by the President. Many, but not necessarily all, of the subsequent amendments are also gathered here. For the current texts of the laws we enforce, as amended, please see Laws Enforced by the EEOC.

Pre 1965

Executive Order 8802

In June 1941, on the eve of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 8802 prohibiting government contractors from engaging in employment discrimination based on race, color or national origin. This order is the first presidential action ever taken to prevent employment discrimination by private employers holding government contracts. The Executive Order applies to all defense contractors, but contains no enforcement authority. President Roosevelt signs the Executive Order primarily to ensure that there are no strikes or demonstrations disrupting the manufacture of military supplies as the country prepares for War.

Executive Order 9981

In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman orders the desegregation of the Armed Forces by Executive Order 9981. The order requires that there be "equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin." America's fighting forces are actually integrated only when the Korean War begins in 1952.

Executive Order 10925

In March 1961, President John F. Kennedy signs Executive Order 10925 prohibiting federal government contractors from discriminating on account of race and establishing the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Departing from previous presidential directives, this Order grants the Committee, initially chaired by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, authority to impose sanctions for violations of the Executive Order. President Kennedy states this enforcement authority signals a new "determination to end job discrimination once and for all."

Equal Pay Act of 1963

In June 1963, Congress passes the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) protecting men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination. The EPA is the first national civil rights legislation focusing on employment discrimination. The Department of Labor has responsibility for enforcement until 1978.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

At 7:40 on the evening of June 19, after the longest debate in its nearly 180-year history, the U.S. Senate passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The vote in favor of the bill is 73 to 27. Thirteen days later, on July 2, the U.S. House of Representatives passes the bill and President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the bill into law that same evening. Five hundred amendments were made to the bill and Congress has debated the bill for 534 hours.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in a broad array of private conduct including public accommodations, governmental services and education. One section of the Act, referred to as Title VII, prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion and national origin. Title VII applies to private employers, labor unions and employment agencies. The Act prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, wages, assignment, promotions, benefits, discipline, discharge, layoffs and almost every aspect of employment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also creates the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a five-member, bipartisan commission whose mission is to eliminate unlawful employment discrimination. The law provides that the Commissioners, no more than three of whom may be from the same political party, are appointed to five-year terms by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Chairman of the agency appoints the General Counsel. EEOC is to open its doors for business on July 2, 1965 -- one year after Title VII's enactment into law.

1965 - 1971

Age Discrimination in Employment Act

Congress passes the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protecting individuals who are between 40 and 65 years of age from discrimination in employment. The Department of Labor has enforcement responsibility. Three years earlier, Congress had voted down an amendment to Title VII to include age discrimination as an unlawful employment practice.

Executive Order 11246

Working to develop close relationships with other federal agencies, EEOC enters into its first Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Labor (DOL). DOL enforces Executive Order 11246, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, which imposes nondiscrimination and affirmative action requirements as a condition of doing business with the Federal Government. The two agencies agree to share information and coordinate investigations of government contractors. Additionally, when EEOC finds a violation of Title VII but is unable to secure an acceptable agreement, then EEOC will refer the charge to DOL to institute an enforcement action under the Executive Order.

1970s

Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972

In its fourth attempt to improve Title VII's effectiveness since its enactment in 1964, Congress amends Title VII by approving the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972. The report accompanying the bill states: "The time has come for Congress to correct the defects in its own legislation. The promises of equal job opportunity made in 1964 must [now] be made realities . . . ." Accordingly, the 1972 amendments are designed to give EEOC the authority to "back up" its administrative findings and to increase the jurisdiction and reach of the agency.

The amendments result in the following:

  1. EEOC has litigation authority. If the agency cannot secure an acceptable conciliation agreement, it has the option of suing nongovernment respondents -- employers, unions, and employment agencies.
  2. Educational institutions are subject to Title VII. Congress found that discrimination against minorities and women in the field of education was just as pervasive as discrimination in any other area of employment.
  3. State and local governments are no longer exempt from Title VII. Removal of this exemption results in 10 million more employees being immediately added to Title VII's coverage.
  4. The Federal Government is subject to Title VII. Federal executive agencies and defined units of the other branches must make all personnel actions free from discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin.
  5. The number of employers covered by Title VII is increased by reducing the number of employees (from 25 to 15) needed for an employer to be covered by the Act.
  6. Charging parties have a longer period of time to file their charges, 180 or 300 days rather than 90 or 210 days. Additionally, charging parties now have 90 days rather than 30 days to file a lawsuit after EEOC has informed them that it is no longer working on their charge. This extension of time affords charging parties a better chance to find a lawyer if they wish to pursue their charges in court.

As a result of the 1972 Amendments, the President, rather than the EEOC Chairman, selects the agency's General Counsel. President Richard M. Nixon nominates and the Senate confirms William Carey to be the EEOC General Counsel.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Congress passes the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 501 prohibits the Federal Government as an employer from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. EEOC is now responsible for enforcement of Section 501. The Act proves to be the model for Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability by private employers.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

Congress amends Title VII by passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 to make clear that discrimination based on pregnancy is unlawful sex discrimination. This legislation reverses the Supreme Court's Gilbert decision.

Rehabilitation, Comprehensive Services, and Developmental Disabilities Amendments of 1978

The 1978 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 make the processes for federal employees' claims of discrimination on the basis of disability and the available remedies virtually identical to federal sector Title VII processes and remedies.

Civil Service Reform Act of 1978

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 abolishes the U.S. Civil Service Commission and distributes its functions primarily among three agencies: (1) the newly established Office of Personnel Management; (2) the Merit Systems Protection Board; and (3) EEOC. EEOC assumes responsibility for enforcing anti-discrimination laws applicable to the civilian federal workforce as well as coordinating all federal equal employment opportunity programs.

Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1978

Seventeen federal agencies and departments are responsible for enforcing 40 different non-discrimination statutes and Executive orders. To eliminate duplication and conflict, President Jimmy Carter signs Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1978 making EEOC responsible for coordinating all federal equal employment opportunity programs. Only three federal agencies, EEOC, the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs are left with significant EEO responsibility. Responsibility for enforcing the Equal Pay Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is transferred from the Department of Labor to EEOC.

Executive Order 12067

President Jimmy Carter signs Executive Order 12067 abolishing the Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinating Council and transferring its responsibilities to EEOC. EEOC now has lead responsibility for giving direction to the government's equal employment opportunity efforts by developing uniform enforcement standards to apply throughout government, including standardized data collection and data sharing, joint training programs and investigations and consistent policies.

1980s

Deficit Reduction Act of 1984

Congress amends the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to require that employees' spouses ages 65 through 69 receive the same treatment under group health plans as employees' spouses under age 65.

Age Discrimination in Employment Amendments of 1986

Congress approves eliminating the upper age cap of 70 from the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Congress also exempts through December 31, 1993, state and local governments when hiring or retiring firefighters or law enforcement officials from age limitations provided those limitations were in effect in March 1983. Congress also provides that colleges and universities through 1993, may involuntarily retire professors at age 70, if the professor is serving under contracts of unlimited tenure.

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

Congress passes the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) which amends the Immigration and Nationality Act. IRCA states that employers can be sanctioned and fined for hiring illegal aliens. One section of IRCA complements Title VII by prohibiting employers with four to 14 employees from discriminating on the basis of national origin and also prohibits citizenship discrimination.

Age Discrimination Claims Assistance Act of 1988

Congress passes the Age Discrimination Claims Assistance Act of 1988 (ADCAA) thereby reinstating the rights of Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) charging parties to file a private lawsuit beyond the two or three year statute of limitations for an additional 540 days (18 months). This Congressional extension permits EEOC to complete the administrative processing of backlogged ADEA charges while the charging party retains his or her right to file a lawsuit.

1990s

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

In July, President George Bush signs into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) -- the world's first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. The Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment (Title I), in public services (Title II), in public accommodations (Title III) and in telecommunications (Title IV). EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title I's prohibition against discrimination against people with disabilities in employment. Title I does not become effective until two years after the President signs the bill (July 26, 1992). The ADA is described as the Emancipation Proclamation for the disability community.

Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990

In October, Congress passes the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) overruling the Supreme Court's 1989 decision in Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio v. Betts. Betts held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) does not forbid age discrimination in employee benefits except in rare circumstances. The OWBPA amends the ADEA to prohibit age discrimination in employee benefits and also establishes minimum standards for an employee's voluntary waiver of an ADEA claim.

Age Discrimination Claims Assistance Amendments of 1990

Congress passes the Age Discrimination Claims Assistance Amendments of 1990 (ADCAA II) providing Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) charging parties an additional 450 days in which to file their own private ADEA lawsuits. This Act permits EEOC to process the remaining backlog of age discrimination charges while preserving the rights of charging parties to later bring their own lawsuits.

Civil Rights Act of 1991

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.

EEOC Education, Technical Assistance and Training Revolving Fund Act

Congress passes the EEOC Education, Technical Assistance and Training Revolving Fund Act of 1992 enabling EEOC to provide technical assistance and materials to stakeholders. The fund is supported from payments received from the recipients of EEOC training.

Age Discrimination in Employment Amendments of 1996

Congress passes the Age Discrimination in Employment Amendments of 1996 which permanently reinstate an exemption that permits state and local governments to use age as a basis for hiring and retiring law enforcement officers and firefighters.

Higher Education Amendments of 1998

The Higher Education Amendments of 1998 are enacted amending the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to permit colleges and universities to offer special age-based retirement incentives for tenured faculty members at institutions of higher education; this amendment replaces the former temporary exemptions which permitted colleges and universities to mandatorily retire tenured faculty members at age 65 and later at age 70.

2000s

Executive Order 13145

In February, 2000, President Bill Clinton signs Executive Order 13145 prohibiting federal departments and agencies from making employment decisions based on protected genetic information. In issuing the first Executive Order of the 21st Century, the President states that he hoped the action would "set an example and pose a challenge for every employer in America" to adopt a policy not to discriminate on the basis of protected genetic information "because . . . no employer should ever review your genetic records along with your resume." The Executive Order assigns to EEOC the responsibility for coordinating the policy with federal departments and agencies.

Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002

In May, Congress passes and President George W. Bush signs into law the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No Fear Act), to become effective October 1, 2003.  The act makes federal agencies accountable for violations of antidiscrimination and whistleblower protection laws, and requires agencies to post data about their EEO complaints on their public websites.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008

In May, Congress passes and President George W. Bush signs into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), to become effective November 21, 2009.  The act protects Americans against discrimination based on their genetic information with respect to health insurance and employment.  Senator Ted Kennedy describes the legislation as the "first major civil rights bill of the new century."  The EEOC is given responsibility for enforcing Title II of GINA.

ADA Amendments Act of 2008

In September, Congress passes and President George W. Bush signs the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), to become effective January 1, 2009.  In the ADAAA, Congress rejects the holdings of two Supreme Court decisions that narrowed the definition of "disability" (Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc., 527 US 471 (1999) and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 US 184 (2002)), thus eliminating protection for many individuals with disabilities whom Congress had intended to protect.  The ADAAA expands coverage and protection in several ways. 

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009

In January, Congress passes and President Barack Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. This law overturned the Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 550 U.S. 618 (2007), which severely restricted the time period for filing complaints of employment discrimination concerning compensation.  This law adopted the EEOC's longstanding position that each paycheck that contains discriminatory compensation is a separate violation regardless of when the discrimination began.   Particularly important for the victims of discrimination, the act is retroactive to May 28, 2007, the day before the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Ledbetter.

2010s

Executive Order 13672

In July, President Barack Obama signs Executive Order 13672, amending Executive Orders 11478 and 11246 to prohibit federal departments and agencies, contractors, and subcontractors from discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.