The History of Affirmative Action: Landmark Cases and Legislation
Affirmative action refers to policies designed to increase the presence of “underrepresented” demographic groups-such as racial or ethnic minorities and women-in specific sectors of the workforce or in the student bodies of American universities (Affirmative Action, 2010). Affirmative action policies are founded on the premise that any observed imbalance in a given workforce or student body is due, either wholly or in part, to past and/or present discrimination-the remedy for which consists of compensatory preferences in favor of the underrepresented group(s). These measures most commonly ...view middle of the document...
Instead, a new agency was formed to address conciliation, the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a branch of the US Department of Labor (USDL).
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 continued the affirmative action standards of Executive Order 10925. Senators Joseph Clark and Clifford Case, sponsors of the act, wrote that there should be no requirement for an employer to meet any particular racial mix of employees, because requiring a racial balance would require an employer “to hire or refuse to hire on the basis of race.”
When President Lyndon B. Johnson took office he argued that fairness required more than a promise to impartial treatment. So later in 1965, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11246. This policy stated that it is a policy of the Government of the United States to provide equal opportunity in federal employment for all qualified persons, to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin, and to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive, continuing program in each department and agency (Executive Order 11246-EEO, 1965). Two years later, Executive Order 11246 was amended with Executive Order 11345 to include sex as a classification for discrimination.
In 1966 the USDL started to collect and scrutinize employment records with breakdowns by race to evaluate hiring practices (Magee, 2011). In 1968, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance set requirements which detailed specific actions to guarantee equal employment opportunities for minorities. Debate over affirmative action has its origins in these requirements. Goals and timetables were developed which compared the percentage of women and minorities in a firm and the percentage of the work force (Magee, 2011). The term “disparate impact” was used to describe situations where the percentage of women and minorities in the firm did not match the percentage in the work force. These regulations created a measurable basis for the treatment of affected minorities and women.
The Equal Employment Act of 1972 enabled the EEOC to file class action law suits. In 1978, under the Carter Administration, the EEOC created a benchmark to define disparate impact frequently called the “four-fifths rule”. Essentially, these Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection stated that federally contracted employers should not be allowed to hire any race, sex, or ethnic group at a rate below four-fifths of any other group (Magee, 2011).
As affirmative action policies began to evolve and shape, many landmark cases came about to further improve and challenge the legislation. In the Griggs v. Duke Power case in 1971, the Supreme Court ruled against Duke Power’s employment requirement of high school diplomas for unskilled jobs, a practice which had a disparate impact on minority workers. Most importantly, the case set a precedent that employers may not engage in hiring practices which discriminate against minorities...