Historical Perspective of Affirmative Action

Executive Order 10925

The first official use of the term affirmative action was in a 1961 provision that was required to be included in all federal government contracts: "the contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin. Such action shall include, but not be limited to, the following: employment, upgrading, demotion or transfer; recruitment or recruitment advertising; layoff or termination; rates of pay or other forms of compensation; and selection for training, including apprenticeship.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It applies to all employers, including colleges and universities, public or private, that have at least fifteen employees.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 sets forth requirements for employers to change personnel practices with regard to the hiring of protected class members and bars discrimination in employment. The strength of Title VII, however, is in providing grounds for lawsuits by people who feel they have suffered from discriminatory employment policies. For example, "plaintiffs who charge an employer with so-called disparate impact practices must demonstrate a statistical gap between the composition of the company's work force and that of the labor pool from which it is drawn. Further, plaintiffs must show that a specific company practice or group of practices, such as interview procedures or written tests, caused the difference."

Executive Order 11246 as amended by Executive Order 11375

Executive Order 11246 issued by President Johnson in 1965 required that all discriminatory practices toward current employees and applicants be eliminated by federal contractors. The executive order recognized that existing civil rights laws required the elimination of discriminatory practices, but that non-discrimination was not enough to provide inclusion of all citizens into the U.S. workforce. Executive Order 11246 instructed contractors to develop positive action, aimed at undoing the grossest inequities of past discrimination, a schedule for how such actions were to take place, and an honest appraisal of what the plan would be likely to yield. Affirmative action goals, then, were to be accompanied by timetables intended to serve as gauges for assessing progress toward the stated goals. The intent in setting hiring goals for affirmative actions was to articulate where the organization was going, and to be able to assess whether it was getting there. For purposes of establishing a chronology, 1971 is generally seen as the beginning of the application of numerical workforce goals and timetables to the academic environments.

Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 503 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that federal contractors with contracts in excess of $2,500 shall take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities. This act forbids federal contractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of physical or mental handicaps. It is enforced by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs/Department of Labor (OFCCP), and the Office for Civil Rights/Department of Health and Human Services (OCR).

Revised Order 4

Revised Order 4, which was issued by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), outlines the essential elements of an affirmative action plan. Revised Order 4 states that an affirmative action plan should minimally contain a policy statement, dissemination techniques, responsibility for implementation, utilization analysis, goals and timetables, action oriented programs, and internal audit and reporting systems.

Veterans Readjustment Act of 1974

Section 402 of the Veterans Readjustment Act of 1974 requires that federal contractors take affirmative action to employee and advance in employment qualified disabled veterans and veterans of the Vietnam era. This act forbids federal contractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of veteran status. It is enforced by the Office of Veterans Reemployment Rights/Department of Labor, and the Veterans Employment Services/Department of Labor.