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The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States, 2nd Edition edited by Hall, Kermit L (23rd June 2005)

C, Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 19 January 2020

Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The broad underlying purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to eliminate the pervasive discrimination against racial minorities that had long existed in American society. The two most important provisions of the act are Title II and Title VII, which provide federal administrative and judicial remedies against racial and other group-based kinds of discrimination in public accommodations and in employment, respectively. The Supreme Court has interpreted the act with reference to its broad underlying purpose and has resolved the major substantive and remedial questions under the act in such a way as to maximize the protection afforded to racial minorities.

The Court has ensured that racial minorities will have full access to all public facilities by broadly defining a “place of public accommodation” within the meaning of Title II to include facilities such as a “family restaurant” (*Katzenbach v. McClung, 1964), a recreational area (Daniel v. Paul, 1969), and a community swimming pool (Tillman v. Wheaton-Haven Recreation Association, 1973). As a result of this expansive interpretation, no person, because of race, can be excluded from any facility that is open to the public as a whole.

The Court likewise has interpreted Title VII with a view toward improving significantly the employment opportunities for racial minorities at all levels and in the workplaces of all employers. Most importantly, the Court has held that Title VII reaches not only intentional employment discrimination, but also employment practices that have a discriminatory effect on racial minorities and other protected groups (*Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 1971). The focus on racially discriminatory effect, or to use the legal phrase, “racially *disparate impact,” has resulted in the invalidation of many tests and other employment requirements that are not job-related and that would deny employment opportunities to racial minorities (see discriminatory intent).

The Court has also upheld the use of judicially imposed affirmative hiring and promotional remedies to overcome the present consequences of an employer’s past racial discrimination (*Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1986). However, since section 703(h) of the act protects “bona fide security systems” from court interference, these remedies do not include out-of-line seniority layoffs in order to maintain court-ordered minority hiring gains (*Firefighters Local Union 1784 v. Stotts, 1984). Affirmative hiring and promotional remedies have been imposed in a large number of class actions against major employers and have had the effect of providing minorities with a fair share of the jobs in the workforces of these employers.

At the same time, the Court has held that Title VII does not prevent an employer from undertaking “voluntary, race-conscious efforts to abolish traditional patterns of racial segregation and hierarchy” in the employer’s workforce (*United Steelworkers v. Weber, 1979). The employer may adopt hiring, training, and promotional programs that give a limited preference to racial minorities in order to open up employment opportunities in the occupations that traditionally had been closed to them (see affirmative action).

In more recent years, there have been fewer class action cases and more cases brought by employees asserting claims of individual discrimination. Following a series of decisions in the late 1980s that generally favored the interests of employers in resisting discrimination claims, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which blunted the full effect of those decisions and clarified and expanded the protection provided by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (see civil rights act of 1991). The Court’s application of the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has generally resulted in more favorable decisions for employees asserting discrimination claims. For example, the Court has held that in a “mixed motive” case, in which the employee presents circumstantial evidence showing that discrimination was a motivating factor for an adverse employment action, the employer will be liable unless it can show that it would have taken the same action without regard to the discriminatory motivating factor (Desert Practice, Inc. v. Costa, 2003).

(p. 173) The Supreme Court’s interpretation of Title VII, when viewed in perspective, has provided racial minorities and other protected groups with a very significant legal weapon in their quest for equal employment opportunity and has gone a long way to providing them with a fair share of the jobs in the American economic system. Title VII also provides the means by which individual employees can challenge impermissible discrimination in the workplace. The Court’s interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a whole has moved the United States a long way in the direction of eliminating the pervasive discrimination that for so long had been a prominent feature of American life.

See also employment discrimination; race and racism.

Harold S. Lewis, Jr. and Elizabeth J. Norman, Employment Discrimination Law (2001).

Robert A. Sedler