50 for 50: Five Decades of the Most Important Discrimination Law Developments - Number 14: Discrimination Laws Apply To State And Local Government Employees

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Title VII, as enacted in 1964, had a rather large coverage gap: millions of American workers employed by State and local governments were not covered.   Why?  The principal reason was State sovereignty, and the notion that subjecting state and local government employment to this type of federal scrutiny would violate the Constitution’s dual sovereignty requirements between the States and Federal Government. This omission was corrected by Congress in 1972, expanding Title VII’s coverage to 10 million more employees with the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972.  The amendment was accomplished despite strenuous opposition primarily from Southern legislators.  Indeed, influential North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin claimed that the proposal “that the EEOC be given jurisdiction over the employment practices of all States and of all the political subdivisions of all States constitutes the most drastic assault upon our Federal system which has been proposed in any legislative proposal to come before Congress at any time in its history.”

Despite vehement opposition from some Southern leaders who grasped onto States’ rights as the rationale for resisting expansion of employment discrimination laws, Congress ultimately reached a compromise that resulted in Title VII coverage for most State and local government employees.  As part of the Congressional compromise, however, certain categories of State and local government employees were expressly excluded from the definition of “employee”– elected officials, their personal staff members, and certain high level appointees of the elected official in policymaking or some immediate advisory positions.

Today, in addition to Title VII, State and local governments are covered employers under the ADA, ADEA, EPA and GINA

 

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