Civil Rights Act of 1964 enforced the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution by ensuring a legislative act that would prevent discrimination and extend equal protection under the law. The bill in its entirety protects all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, national background, and gender. It was and still is considered to be a landmark bill, in spite of the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment already technically guarantees equal protection to all citizens of the United States. However, practice and theory are different beasts. President Johnson understood this, and foresaw the need to push forward legislation that would create a more perfect union offering liberty and justice to all people.
The Civil Rights Act was surprisingly controversial, in a nation that prided itself on its values of equality and freedom. It took centuries for females and non-whites to have voting privileges in the United States. The battle for true equality was long and hard fought. Civil rights bills had been passed and ignored since the end of the Civil War; but Reconstruction had been thoroughly deconstructed by racist lawmakers. In 1943, an attempt at civil rights law was made in Congress but failed to pass in the Senate. Congress continued trying to pass a civil rights bill, but committee after committee shot them down. There were simply too many bigoted lawmakers in Washington, and equal protection remained a dream.
Finally, the election of John F. Kennedy to the office of Presidency coincided with the deep and radical changes taking place in American society. Values, norms, and beliefs shifted with the youth and counterculture movements throughout the United States and Western Europe. The hypocrisy of injustice in all its forms, including racism and sexism became less tolerated and less normative. By 1963, the American people and its lawmakers were finally ready for a real push forward and genuine social progress. Martin Luther King, Jr. And other African-American activists were aligned with the cause of women too.
In 1963, amid increasing pressure from the American people, President Kennedy helped to draft the Civil Rights Act. Even the changing tide of the times could not deter the bigots in Washington to embrace the constitutional rights of non-white citizens and females. It took nearly a year for Congress to concede, and unfortunately it also took the assassination of President Kennedy to encourage lawmakers to take the great leap forward that they did in 1964, when the Civil Rights Bill was finally passed on February 10.
One of the most important provisions of the Civil Rights Act is Title VII, which makes it unlawful for any employer to engage in discriminatory practices defined, in part, as follows:
1. To fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
2. To limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
(Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964)
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers employment agencies, labor unions, training programs, national security, and host of other potential applications of the law. Moreover, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 introduced the concepts of protected classes and unlawful employment practices in American business. Test scores cannot be used in any way that promotes discrimination. Both the private and the public sector are obliged to comply with Title VII, or risk breaking the law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ensures, among other things, a workplace environment that is free from sexual harassment and hostility based on gender or race. In general, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s employment provisions cover a range of situations that might arise and that do arise to prevent the extension of Fourteenth Amendment rights to all citizens of the United States.
Another important accomplishment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the creation of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). This body was created with a mandate to promote and enforce the provisions stated in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC is entrusted with the active outreach services required to encourage all private and public sector employees to transition from outmoded employee selection habits to more egalitarian human resources strategies. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 represented a radical change of pace, and demanded deep structural changes for businesses. The EEOC was in part created to provide any technical support needed to educate employees about their legal rights and responsibilities, as well as to offer consultation on how to go about implementing equal opportunity practices. The EEOC also serves as a liaison between the government and the American people, entrusted as a source of information about the rights of citizens with regards to their employers. For the first time, women and non-whites had the right to sue their employers for discrimination. And for the first time, women and non-whites had a chance of winning those suits.
The Effects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on Today’s Society
The specificity of the act was remarkable, and brought to light the extent to which discrimination had become engrained in standard operating procedures throughout all social, cultural, political, and economic institutions. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act covered a gamut of scenarios that were familiar to more than half the American population, including sexual harassment in the workplace. Institutionalized racism and sexism existed to such a deep degree that it would take generations for the real effects of Civil Rights legislation to come to fruition. There are several reasons why Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is still needed, and used.
One reason why Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is still needed and used is that gender and racial parity have not yet been realized. Both women and non-whites have enjoyed equal protection under the law, but there are still lingering signs of institutionalized sexism and racism. For example, women continue to earn less for the same job as men. One of the main weaknesses of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has been its failure to protect equal pay for equal work as a fundamental provision of the legislation. Wage discrimination, job segregation, and related issues are actually covered textually in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and more thoroughly by revisions to the act covered by the EEOC. Blumrosen (1978), for example, speaks about both the black-white and the male-female wage differentiation that plagues the country. For this reason, an amendment to the Civil Rights Act is necessary. Currently, the EEOC claims that equal pay is a mandate but this mandate has not come to fruition. Women remain systematically discriminated against with regards to pay and access to positions of power in the workplace.
With regards to race, having an African-American president does not negate the need for Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act remains necessary because of the continued income disparities between whites and blacks in America, which is in part related to generations of unequal access to educational services and other paths by which to achieve social and economic parity. Until these issues have been resolved, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 remains necessary.
The plight of African-Americans had grown so grim by 1964 that many had given up on white institutions. Rhetoric from the African-American community shifted from submissive acceptance of inequity toward justifiably angry self-empowerment. Malcolm X provided an apt counterpart to the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Black Power movement reclaimed black identity, and created new black public spheres of discourse that transcended the status quo. Black arts and culture revitalized itself, and black communities grew stronger internally, in opposition to the dominant culture. The result was that many African-Americans failed to take advantage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its provisions, such as Title VII. Having gone through generation after generation of rights deprivation, a sort of cultural fatigue set in, in which rebellion and resentment characterized the response to white culture. Integration had been achieved at the level of the law, but it was too late for some. Many African-Americans shunned integration, because it was viewed as submission to white culture rather than a true integration that would value black input and black ideas. African-American remained suppressed and oppressed in spite of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This does not mean that the Title VII provisions, or the Act in general, are no longer relevant. What it does mean is that American society has a long way to go before the Civil Rights Act becomes anachronistic.
A similar situation existed for women, and continues to exist. Beyond the equal pay question, many women have given up on the dominant culture idea of success. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ensured a workplace free from sexual harassment, but it did not dismantle the revolving door or the glass ceiling that still exist in many workplaces. Organizational cultures have slowly changed to welcome different styles of leadership and communication. In the 21st century, a litany of companies do exist, which live up to the ideals set forth in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet more needs to be done to encourage the participation of women in spheres of government, finance, and science. Women continue to struggle with workplace discrimination, degradation, and sexual harassment. For instance, a class action suit was recently filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, West Palm Beach division. The suit was supported by the United States Equal Opportunity Commission, which aids employees like the plaintiffs in the case to seek legal counsel and promote values of fairness and equality. This is why Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must remain in place for years to come.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 accomplished the core goal of validating the concerns of non-whites and females. It also invalidated the concerns of bigots in positions of financial or political power. With the law on their side, half the population suddenly found itself able to fulfill individual and collective dreams. This changed the fundamental character of American culture. As Weiss (2009) points out, the courts have come to rule in favor of transgendered individuals who sue their employers on the basis of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When the Act was originally passed, it is doubtful the lawmakers would have foreseen transgender applications to the law. Because there has been greater awareness of gender issues and sexuality, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has become more, not less, relevant.
Organizations have had to change their overall cultures and codes of ethics in order to comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Legal teams in large companies work hard to ensure minimal losses due to lawsuits. At the same time, those legal teams work to protect the company to defend its actions in cases where discrimination has been suggested. Whether motivated by fear of financial reprimand, or of genuine desire to create an egalitarian society, employers are continuing to alter the ways they conduct business.
Some of the most innocuous policies can be viewed as discriminatory because of the one-sidedness with which organizational rules of conduct are created. For example, managers did not realize that it was insulting to call women “honey” because such behaviors had been tolerated and assumed as normative. Now, few managers would be so stupid to call a female employer Honey unless that was her name. Some employers have been unaware of the religious persuasion of their employees, and did not realize that some policies and procedures might be deemed discriminatory such as mandating a workday on religious holidays. A “no beard” policy could discriminate against African-Americans who have sensitive skin. Policies related to employee benefits sometimes discriminate against same-sex couples, a civil rights issue that has yet to be resolved in the United States.
If the failure to provide for absolute standards regarding equal pay is one of the greatest weaknesses of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, another is the fact that the Act only applied for businesses with more than fifteen employees. This could become a serious loophole in the law. Small businesses should ideally be covered under the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is no reason for any institution to be exempt from following what is essentially constitutional law guaranteeing equal protection. All businesses, both small and large, should be required to provide a workplace environment that is free from sexual harassment, discrimination, and inequality. Title VII also does not apply to businesses employing undocumented immigrants. Because the laborers are undocumented, their employment is considered unlawful. There is no valid employment contract, which leaves undocumented workers without any actual rights. Undocumented workers can be treated in poor ways, because their employers are not obliged legally to protect those workers. Sexual harassment and discrimination can take place, because the employer also knows that the undocumented workers do not want to get deported. This is a humanitarian situation that should ideally be remedied by future legislation or changes to the structure of Title VII. For example, it would be possible to protect undocumented workers for humanitarian reasons.
There are some exceptions to Title VII, which are included in the original draft of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These exceptions include the now anachronistic provision that employers concerned about members of the Communist Party can bypass the law. This provision seems troublesome, as it can be interpreted to mean that persons who are of a non-traditional political persuasion can be discriminated against in the workplace. At the same time, the Communist Party symbolized everything that was anti-American when the Civil Rights Act was passed. It makes sense that a domestic terrorist could be fired on the basis of his bringing a bomb to work. However, an employer could also choose to fire someone who was a member of the Communist Party but posed no real threat either to country or to the organization. Another exception of the Title VII provisions is that nonprofit sector organizations and religious institutions are exempt. This makes sense, as those organizations are advertising their stance on the character of their organizational culture.
Not surprisingly, affirmative action is linked to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Affirmative Action is mentioned directly in Title VII, but even before that, affirmative action ideas bloomed around the same time that President Kennedy was developing the Civil Rights Act. In 1961, the President issued an executive order (number 10925) mandating government contractors to ‘take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin,'” (cited by Cornell University Law School, n.d.). This predated the Civil Rights Act by several years, indicating that the tides of equality were already turning.
The executive order related to Affirmative Action applied to all governmental agencies. It required that governmental employers and their contractors “document their affirmative action programs through compliance reports, to contain ‘such information as to the practices, policies, programs, and employment policies, programs, and employment statistics of the contractor and each subcontractor,'” (Cornell University Law School, n.d.).
Affirmative action came to fruition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII of the Act sets forth “affirmative action” as whatever “appropriate” remedies that can be taken to eliminate the discriminatory practices. Affirmative action “may include, but is not limited to, reinstatement or hiring of employees, with or without back pay (payable by the employer, employment agency, or labor organization, as the case may be, responsible for the unlawful employment practice), or any other equitable relief as the court deems appropriate,” (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Affirmative action has come to mean more than what it says in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. More comprehensive and global strategies to ensure equality have been necessary as a proactive means, rather than a reactive means of ensuring equality. Many employees understand that giving minorities the opportunity to prove themselves will prevent institutionalized racism from persisting. After all, African-Americans had been systematically excluded from access to the types of education that white people received as a matter of course. Using affirmative action meant taking a stance against institutionalized racism. More often than not, affirmative action applies more to race than to gender.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation that was the culmination of years — of generations — of hard work. Finally, women and non-whites were protected under the law. An entire body called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created to ensure the protection of all American Citizens. The Equal Opportunity Commission continues to evolve, and to better serve Americans as the society becomes increasingly tolerant and open minded. There is still work to be done in order to achieve a more perfect union, but Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was a step in the right direction.
Blumrosen, R.G. (1978), Wage discrimination, job segregation, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Cornell University Law School (n.d.). Affirmative Action. Retrieved online: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/affirmative_action
Lee, J.M. (2008). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 9 Geo. J. Gender & L. 895
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved online: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm
United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida (2012). Retrieved online: http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1222&context=condec&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fscholar.google.com%2Fscholar%3Fas_ylo%3D2008%26q%3DTitle%2BVII%2Bof%2Bthe%2BCivil%2BRights%2BAct%2Bof%2B1964%3A%26hl%3Den%26as_sdt%3D0%2C5#search=%22Title%20VII%20Civil%20Rights%20Act%201964%3A%22
Weiss, J.T. (2009). Transgender Identity, Textualism, and the Supreme Court: What is the ‘Plain Meaning’ of ‘Sex’ in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 18, No. 573, 2009
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