The Influence of Justice Thurgood Marshall on the Development of Title VII Jurisprudence
23 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2016
Date Written: September 20, 2016
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had the noble goal of eliminating discrimination. Specifically, the Act “addressed and prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, public school education, federally-funded programs, and private sector employment” based on race, sex, religion and other protected classifications. Title VII of the Act was implemented to eliminate discrimination in the workforce and “created an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to administer and enforce the statute.” Congress, however, only gave the EEOC “the authority to seek enforcement by ‘informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion’ but not the authority to compel compliance.” As written, Title VII was broad and left enforcement ambiguous and violations undefined. Thus, Congress left the task of determining what constituted a violation of the Act, the standards of pleading, and the proof required for successful enforcement of Title VII to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Justice Thurgood Marshall sat on the Supreme Court during the first twenty years of decisions rendered by the Court interpreting Title VII. These seminal decisions transformed Title VII from a “poor enfeebled thing” into a vehicle for social reform that equalized access to the courts by allowing employees to take action against private employers’ discriminatory practices. This Article highlights Justice Marshall’s influence on the development of Title VII jurisprudence. Part I presents a brief overview of Justice Marshall’s personal and professional life before becoming a Justice to show how his experience influenced the development of his judicial philosophy. Part II summarizes the Court’s approach to some of the issues left unresolved by Congress in the initial passage of Title VII. Specifically, it explores how the Court determined what would constitute a violation of Title VII and standards of pleading and proof. Part III examines the changes in the Court’s jurisprudence before Justice Marshall retired from the bench. As the majority of Justices became less sympathetic to the protection of African Americans in the workplace, Justice Marshall’s voice of dissent emerged. Part IV concludes with a discussion of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which vindicated Justice Marshall’s choice to dissent by adopting many of the positions taken in his departure from the majority view.
Keywords: Thurgood Marshall, Civil Rights, Title VII
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