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35 Years of Ensuring the Promise of Opportunity

EEOC: The Early Years
Screen Shot: EEOC's Early History
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Throughout its existence, the Commission has focused on but one simply stated mission: the elimination of illegal discrimination from the workplace. To accomplish that goal, various approaches some dictated by statutory limitations and some by philosophical and managerial considerations have been employed. This publication will address in particular how three influences explain many of the decisions affecting how the Commission accomplishes its mission.

Of all the influences, the direction and limitations imposed by Congress and by the Administration in power explain the major sea changes in EEOC's enforcement operations over time. Thus, conciliation, education, outreach and technical assistance were the primary methods employed by EEOC at its inception because that was what the law permitted. After Congress gave EEOC litigation enforcement authority in 1972, that became a focal point for the agency. Today, the challenge manifests itself in achieving a wholly integrated approach that strategically links all activities in a delicate balance that adjusts for new and innovative programs like alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation. This mechanism is now becoming an effective tool to resolve more and more disputes.

A second major influence on Commission operations is the particular enforcement philosophy of its commissioners. In particular, the Commission has at different times encouraged pursuit of large, complex, time-intensive systemic investigations and lawsuits that involve mostly larger employers and significant numbers of potentially affected class members. At other times, the Commission has emphasized an individual victim approach, designed to remedy particularized fact-intensive wrongs affecting one or a few identifiable individuals. In other eras, some mix between the systemic and individual approach has held sway.

A third influence, connected with the other two, is the need to address particular problems or concerns in the operation of the agency. Thus, there have been times when EEOC has seen its jurisdiction expand as a result of Congressional mandates and Executive Branch reorganizations. Unfortunately, additional staffing and resources did not always accompany these expansions. Thus, the Commission often has had to modify its procedures to enable it to address increased enforcement responsibilities, without staff or funding increases concomitant with them. Such actions have required EEOC to formulate innovative strategies to ensure that the promise of opportunity moves closer to fulfillment.

EEOC's strength has been its ability to rise to each challenge. As we enter the 21st century, EEOC needs to continue to embody its core values of fairness, effectiveness and efficiency, ensuring that it continues to stand as the nation's premier civil rights enforcement agency.

Next: Pre 1965: Events Leading to the Creation of EEOC

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