Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency charged with enforcement of a variety of laws designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC has made a major difference for many people, inside and outside of education, and it will continue to do so as workers seek its assistance so that their employers do not discriminate against persons on account of sex, race, creed, national origin, or physical disability.

The forerunner of the EEOC was the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, created under Executive Order 10925 and signed into law on March 6, 1961, by President John F. Kennedy, who was aware of the need to protect the rights of a wide array of employees. The EEOC was created by Congress some time later to protect equal employment opportunities under federal law. In fact, the EEOC was created largely to serve as a mechanism to enforce the far-reaching provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act’s 10 titles deal with important areas such as voter registration, discrimination in public accommodations, desegregation of public schools, authorized withdrawal of federal funds from discriminatory programs, commission on civil rights, nondiscrimination in federal programs, equal employment opportunity, voting and registration statistics, procedures for appealing a federal court order, and creation of a community relations office.

As to its actual operations, the president appoints the five commissioners to staggered 5-year terms on the EEOC. All commissioners must be approved by the Senate. In addition, the president has the authority to select the chairman and vice-chairman. The chairman is the EEOC’s chief executive officer. In carrying out its duties, the EEOC may establish equal employment policy and approve litigation after completing its investigations. In following up on the commission’s recommendations for disputes to proceed to litigation, the EEOC selects a general counsel, who holds office for 4 years.

The EEOC has the specific authority to enforce the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA); Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA); Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA); Section 501, Section 504, and Section 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII); and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The EEOC is also charged with the responsibility of overseeing and coordinating equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and polices pursuant to federal law. Further, the EEOC carries out its enforcement responsibilities through 50 offices throughout the nation.

Federal workplace discrimination laws are enforced by different federal agencies, including the EEOC. In its lead capacity, officials at the EEOC coordinate the federal government’s employment nondiscrimination efforts. To ensure consistency in the federal government’s effort to fight workplace discrimination, the EEOC is compelled to review regulations and other EEOC policy-related documents before they are promulgated for enforcement. The EEOC has the power to file suits on behalf of alleged victims of discrimination against private employers. It can also adjudicate discrimination claims filed against federal agencies. When first enacted, the EEOC did not have the ability to intervene in disputes involving public school employment. However, Congress eliminated this exemption in 1972 and conferred authority on the EEOC to act in the important arena of public education.

The EEOC is significant in education law because each year it reviews numerous disputes alleging violations of Title VII, the ADEA, the EPA, and Section 504, as well as other claims that eventually make their way to court.

Robert J. Safransky

See also Age Discrimination in Employment Act; Americans with Disabilities Act; Equal Pay Act; Title VII

Further Readings

  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). http://www.eeoc.gov 

Legal Citations