The history of discrimination law in the U.S.

In 1966, when the EEOC started collecting data on the race and gender composition of workplaces, white men were overwhelmingly overrepresented in power positions. African American men and women and white women were dramatically underrepresented in them relative to their numbers in the labor force.

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 fostered some progress for white women, white men still retain power in the U.S. private sector workforce. Discrimination continues — and at an unchanged rate. There are major earning disparities between racial and gender groups. According to the authors of Rights on Trial, in 2014, median incomes were:

“Asian American men: $59,766
White men: $58,712
Asian American women: $48,419
White women: $44,236
African American men: $41,167
African American women: $35,212
Latino men: $35,114
Latina women: $30,289” (almost half of the median income for Asian American men)

Yet the early years of Title VII seemed promising. Back then, the Supreme Court fostered change by holding that plaintiffs did not need to prove discriminatory intent since discrimination could be presumed with certain workplace practices (passing over quality minority candidates for white candidates and not paying men and women equally for equal work, for example). Remedies included back pay.

By the late 1980s and 1990s, courts limited what constituted discrimination and the likelihood of a discrimination claim getting to trial or proven in court. Judges often claimed that employers having any EEO compliance programs in place to prevent discrimination meant discrimination didn’t happen.

Photo by Josh Hild.

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