Relation of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991 to Human Resource Management

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  • 0:02 Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • 0:49 Title VII
  • 3:36 Civil Rights Act of 1991
  • 9:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the most influential laws affecting employment in the United States. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 amended some of its provisions. In this lesson, you'll learn about how each Act applies to HR Management.

Overview of Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the great pieces of 20th century legislation. The Act prohibits discrimination based upon race, color, sex, religion, and natural origin in public forums. These are often referred to as protected classes. Its scope is broad and applies to not only employment but also education, housing, public accommodation, and programs that receive federal assistance. We'll focus our discussion on Title VII of the Act, which relates to employment. Title VII generally applies to private sector employers who employ at least 15 employees and state and local government agencies employing at least 15 employees.

Title VII

Title VII is one of the most important laws that an HR professional needs to know because it regulates pretty much every type of employment action in the employee-employer relationship. Let's take a look at how Title VII affects the daily activities of Beth, a human resource specialist.

Beth is in the process of hiring a new group of production workers. Title VII prohibits Beth from discriminating against job applicants based upon their race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. She cannot use any of these characteristics as a hiring criteria. During interviews, Beth is not permitted to ask questions about an applicant's race, color, religion, or national origin. Beth also can't give different rates of pay or types or quality of benefits based on these protected classes.

There is an important exception to this rule. If the characteristic is a bona fide job qualification, then normally prohibited criteria can be used. For example, a synagogue that wants to hire a Rabbi can require that the person hired be a member of the Jewish faith, because Jewish religious faith is a necessary qualification for the job.

A supervisor seeking permission to terminate an employee has approached Beth. She asks him why he wants to fire the employee. The supervisor tells her that customers just don't want to deal with Middle Eastern Muslims. He doesn't have a problem with the employee, but customers feel uncomfortable around him. Beth tells the supervisor that firing an employee because of his race or religion is absolutely a violation of Title VII and this is the case even if the problem is with the customer not wanting to deal with an employee. Title VII, Beth explains, doesn't let an employer discriminate just because its customers want to do so.

On a brighter note, Beth has to help a manager select an employee for a promotion. One of the contenders is a male, and the other is a female. Beth knows that the decision on a promotion cannot be based on sex, color, race, religion, or national origin. Neither one can be demoted for any of these reasons. Beth also needs to prepare for a training session tomorrow. She cannot exclude anyone from training based on any of the Title VII protected characteristics.

In summary, Beth and her company cannot discriminate based upon race, color, national origin, religion, or sex concerning hiring, pay, benefits, firing, promoting, demoting, training, and any other term or condition of employment.

Civil Rights Act of 1991

After a series of United States Supreme Court decisions viewed as hurting victims of employment discrimination, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1991 that amended not only Title VII, but also the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Let's take a look at some of the key changes.

The 1991 Act extended coverage of Title VII to U.S. citizens that work abroad for U.S. companies as well as for Senate employees. Since Beth's company employs U.S. citizens abroad, she needs to make sure that the foreign facilities are complying with all provisions of Title VII as it concerns their U.S. employees.

The 1991 Act changed the requirements necessary for an employee to establish discrimination through what is known as a disparate impact. A disparate impact case is where the plaintiff establishes that an apparently neutral employment policy, practice, or procedure adversely impacts the members of a protected class - for example, requiring a certain level of science education for engineers or technicians. While the policy may be neutral in its intent, it may have a bigger impact on minorities who may not pursue engineering degrees in as large numbers as white middle class males. The existence of a disparate impact doesn't necessarily mean an employer is liable for it as we will see below.

Prior to the 1991 Act, the theory of liability based upon a disparate impact was based solely on case law - judge made law. The 1991 Act codified - made it a part of the statutory law - the claim of disparate impact and clarified who had the burden of proof. The party who has the burden of proof is simply the person who has to prove something in court. The other party doesn't have to do anything unless evidence is presented to prove what is required, in which case that party will want to present evidence to refute the facts presented by the person with the initial burden.

Once a plaintiff establishes a disparate impact, the burden shifts to the employer to show that the practice is both job-related and a business necessity. In our previous example, while requiring an engineering degree for an engineering job may create a disparate impact, it is both job-related and a business necessity for an engineering firm. Consequently, the employer is free from liability due to the disparate impact created.

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