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The 1980s: A Period of Change and Reassessment


The decade of the 1980s was a time of change and reassessment for the Commission. EEOC had only recently received enforcement authority for the EPA, the ADEA, and the civil rights laws applicable to civilian federal employees. As a result of this expanded authority, EEOC witnessed a substantial increase in its charge workload. Unfortunately, no significant increase in staffing or resources followed. Thus, the Commission strived to discern its proper enforcement role given its new authority, while continuing to strengthen the protections afforded under the employment discrimination laws, most notably in the areas of age discrimination, sexual harassment, and national origin bias.

Moreover, in the early 1980s, the change from Democrat to Republican administrations resulted in substantial changes in enforcement philosophy. EEOC began the 1980s by continuing to focus on broad, systemic employment practices that operated to discriminate against large classes of individuals. However, the Republican appointees to the Commission wanted to reassess its methods. The new Commission believed that more attention to individual claims of discrimination needed to occupy priority standing for a civil rights enforcement agency. While the rapid charge processing system adopted in the late 1970s to reduce the Commission's backlog had achieved its goal, the new Commission was ready for a change in strategic direction. Accordingly, the Commission determined that much greater emphasis should be placed on obtaining full remedies for every individual complainant. New policies reflecting this emphasis, together with a vast increase in charges, created new workload and management challenges for the agency.

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