The Civil Rights Acts of 1991 was created in response to a series of unpopular decisions made by the Supreme court. Besides overturning these questionable decisions, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 also aims to amend several parts of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was never perfect to begin with, many civil rights groups back then made an initiative to draft a bill that would not only amend but also expand Title VII. Thanks to this initiative, several classes (especially minorities) now have legal and codified protection against discriminatory employment practices.
To this date, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 is one of the most comprehensive civil rights legislation passed in Congress since 1964. Given the importance of this amendment, we deem it is important to look back as to how the Civil Rights Act of 1991 was made possible as well as the changes it has brought to the US Code of Laws.
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What was the purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1991?
The main purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 is “to restore and strengthen civil rights laws that ban discrimination in employment, and for other purposes.” It made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 more inclusive and it allowed for more expansive approaches to damages relating to discriminatory employment practices.
Since not all discriminatory acts are obvious and easily noticeable, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 provided resolutions and safeguards to minorities and those who experience subtler (but impactful) discrimination in the workplace.
This bill was passed to overturn the lapses made by the Supreme Court in 1989 and fill the gaps that were still present in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
One of the things that fuels this amendment is the questionable decisions made by the Supreme Court in the Ward’s Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio. Without going into too much detail, the Supreme Court’s decisions on this case weakened the scope and effectiveness of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That is why changes in the codified civil rights protection have had to be made.
As we previously mentioned, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was never perfect to begin with. It leaves more room for improvement and it easily crumbles.
So without discounting the fact that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 paved significant changes during that time, we still have to take into account that there are bound to be glitches and setbacks, especially since the country is only starting to transition and adjust to the changes brought by the civil war. That being said, it is no longer a surprise why the codified civil rights protection is also bound to be changed or amended.
What inspires the Civil Rights Act of 1991?
In the paragraphs above, we briefly mentioned that several cases in 1989 fueled the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. In this section, we would look at the series of unpopular decisions made by the Supreme Court during that time. It is worth noting that these cases spark particular concern to several civil rights groups which in turn led them to draft the amendments passed in 1991.
Patterson v. McLean Credit Union
Brief Fact Summary: A black woman who was working at a credit union as a teller and file coordinator for 10 years was laid off. She brought her case to the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 alleging that she was subjected to harassment and unfair treatments because of her race. However, the District Court determined that her claim for racial harassment is not actionable under section 1981 because it does not relate to making and enforcing private contracts.
Civil Rights Act of 1991: With the amendments pushed in 1991, succeeding cases would now be viewed differently. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 broadened the definition of the “make and enforce contracts”
Wards Cove Packing Co., Inc. v. Atonio
Brief Fact Summary: Due to the disparity of roles between nonwhites (to unskilled roles) and whites (skilled roles to) workers, a group of nonwhite cannery workers filed a suit in the District Court alleging discriminatory hiring practices within the company. Even though the case reached the Court of Appeals, it still did not warrant any success and they were, in turn, suggested to “produce evidence of a legitimate business justification” for the hiring practices that created the disparity.
Civil Rights Act of 1991: This amendment overturns the arguments made in this case by requiring employers or companies to show that an employment practice is justified by “business necessity.”
Martin v. Wilks
Brief Fact Summary: White firefighters challenge a consent decree, which they were neither parties nor privies of. The consent decree aims to hire blacks as firefighters and promote them.
Civil Rights Act of 1991: The amendment would prevent any hindrance to affirmative action. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 added a section that states that any order that resolves a claim of employment discrimination under the Constitution or Federal civil rights laws may not be challenged under different circumstances (such as the ones of Martin v. Wilks).
Lorance v. AT&T Technologies, Inc.
Brief Fact Summary: Women employees filed a suit in the District Court alleging that the company violated Title VII by adopting a new seniority system that would predominantly benefit men. However, the court just granted a summary judgment because the charges had not been filed within the required period “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.”
Civil Rights Act of 1991: To remedy cases like this, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 expanded the rights of claimants (workers or employees) to challenge discriminatory seniority systems.
Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins
Brief Fact Summary: A female employee was denied nor offered of partnership because of her gender. She then filed a suit in the Federal District Court under Title VII, claiming that she had been discriminated on the basis of sex. However, even though the Court proved that gender played a motivating part in the partnership position, the employer could still avoid liability by proving that they would have made the same decision regardless of sex.
Civil Rights Act of 1991: The amendments provide a limitation on available relief in “mixed motive” cases. This means that any reliance on discriminatory reasons would be deemed illegal.
How did the Civil Rights Act get passed?
President George H. W. Bush initially vetoed the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1990. He feared that employers would adopt a rigid race-and-gender-based hiring system that would shield them from lawsuits. Months later, several senators made changes and shaped the bill in line with the demands of President Bush.
Afterward and a year later, President Bush signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which became law on 21 November 1991.
What did the Civil Rights Act cover?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees and job applicants from discriminatory practices. It covers the full spectrum of employment decisions, including recruitment, selections, terminations, and other decisions concerning terms and conditions of employment.
To keep up with the changing times and practices in the workplace, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 ushered changes in the law and help solidifies the objective put forward by the Civil Right s Act of 1964.
What changes were made by the 1991 Civil Rights Act?
- Compensatory and punitive damages
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 allows involved parties to recover compensatory and punitive damages. It also allows involved parties to recover a sum of the amount of compensatory damages for future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non pecuniary losses related to discriminatory employment practices.
- Extension to overseas US worker
The extraterritoriality clause expanded the scope of the Civil Rights Act. Since the Civil Rights Act of 1991, any US citizen working abroad is now included and protected by the Civil Rights Act.
- Jury Trial
Allows civil suits brought under Title VII to go before a jury. It is worth noting that most claims under Title VII initially proceed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before they are considered in the Federal District Court or any relevant state court.
- Technical Assistance Training Institute
Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has paved the establishment of the Technical Assistance Training Institute. It aims to provide technical assistance and training about the laws and regulations enforced by the EEOC.
- Educational and outreach activities
Apart from the establishment of the Technical Assistance Training Institute, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 also obligates the EEOC to engage in certain educational and outreach activities targeted to
(1) individuals who have historically been victims of employment discrimination and who have not been equitably served by the EEOC; and
(2) individuals on whose behalf the EEOC has the authority to enforce any other law.
- Seniority system
The amendments expanded the right of employees to challenge seniority systems. According to Congress, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 “declares that an unlawful employment practice occurs, with respect to a seniority system that has been adopted for an intentionally discriminatory purpose, whether or not that purpose is apparent on the face of the system, when the system is adopted, when an individual becomes subject to the system, or when a person is injured by the application of the system.”
- Attorney’s fees award inclusion
The amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed the inclusion of expert fees in the attorney’s fees awarded to the prevailing party.
- Statute of limitation against the federal government
The amendment extends the time for aggrieved employees or applicants to file a civil action from 30 days to 90 days (from receipt of notice of final action taken by a department, agency, or unit).
- Statute of limitations relating to age discrimination
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 eliminates the two-to-three-year statute of limitations for cases under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The suit-filing requirement for ADEA would now be the same as Title VII, which in turn would require the EEOC to provide notice to the charging parties as well.
- Extension to employees of the House and Instrumentalities of Congress
The amendments extend the rights and protection of the Civil Rights Act to the employees of the US House of Representatives and the Instrumentalities of the Congress which includes: the Architect of the Capitol, the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office, the Government Printing Office, the Office of Technology Assessment, and the United States Botanic Garden.
What classes of employees are protected by the Civil Rights Act?
The main protected classes are those who are discriminated based on:
- sex; or
- national origin
Aside from that, there are also clause, sections, and provisions found in the US Code that protect employees or applicants from discriminatory practices based on
- genetic information
- sexual orientation
- gender identity
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 helped resolve the problems faced by minorities, people of color, and women after the civil rights movement. Despite the landmark legislation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discriminatory practices in the workplace are still apparent, especially to the classes that we have cited above.
That being said, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 not only protected employees and applicants from discriminatory practices, but it also ushered significant changes in the US code.
To quickly recap, we have discussed
- What was the purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1991?
- What inspires the Civil Rights Act of 1991?
- How did the Civil Rights Act get passed?
- What did the Civil Rights Act cover?
- What changes were made by the 1991 Civil Rights Act?
- What classes of employees are protected by the Civil Rights Act?
It is worth pointing out that the topics mentioned above are not meant to be comprehensive nor should be construed as legal advice. We still highly recommend you to read the US Code or get in touch with an experienced attorney in your state.
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