Intergovernmental Relations and the Administrative Enforcement of Equal Employment Opportunity Laws

By Dodge, Lola R. | Public Administration Review, September-October 1997 | Go to article overview

Intergovernmental Relations and the Administrative Enforcement of Equal Employment Opportunity Laws


Dodge, Lola R., Public Administration Review


Equal employment opportunity has been an explicitly stated national goal since enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In furtherance of this goal, Congress authorized creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce compliance with the act's provisions against discrimination in employment, and to work with state and local fair employment practices agencies in their enforcement of related antidiscrimination laws. These joint efforts have led to complex intergovernmental relations among national, state, and local governmental organizations.

The impetus for this study lies in understanding the relationship between national and state administrative agencies charged with enforcing antidiscrimination statutes in the public and private workplace. Such understanding is important in refining current theory and practice regarding equal employment opportunity. Although extensive literatures exist in the areas of intergovernmental relations and civil rights, research is sparse regarding the linkage between equal employment opportunity as a public policy in a federal system and its implementation through intergovernmental means.[1] Three primary questions underlie this research. First, to what extent and in what ways does the presence of overlapping authority help or hinder administrative enforcement? Second, what variation exists in the degree of interdependence between the EEOC and state fair employment practices agencies, and what effect does the degree of interdependence have on enforcement? Third, what is the nature and extent of bargaining in the development of consensus between the national agency and state entities, and how does it affect the content of contracts between them?

The Evolution of Employment Discrimination Policy

Employment discrimination policy has developed within the context of a federal system of governance. Both the national government and individual states create and execute policies.[2]

A division of responsibility between levels of government based on the nature of the program or service provided is part of the ongoing debate over proper allocation of authority among governmental levels (Rivlin, 1992).

From early conflict over slavery to clashes over desegregation and voting rights, disagreement about the nature of federalism has often centered on issues related to states rights in a federal system (Nice, 1987). Traditional views about dual federalism, in which power and responsibility is divided between the national and state governments and each exercises authority in its respective jurisdiction, reinforced the perspective that states, when enacting segregation laws, were exercising authority in their own relatively autonomous sphere. The national government, however, exerted authority in a variety of areas, including fair employment, particularly during the New Deal and Great Society periods.

When the national Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, over 20 states had some type of fair employment law, and several states had laws requiring racially segregated employment.[3] The coordinated enforcement requirement in Title VII of the act, which indicated that the newly created EEOC was to work with subnational fair employment agencies, was reinforced by views about cooperative and creative federalism. Instead of separate spheres of authority, there were areas of overlap, with power and responsibility for certain policies shared between national and state governments to varying degrees.

Growing federal involvement in the implementation of civil rights policy was challenged during the Reagan administration as part of an overall effort to shift many governmental responsibilities to the states (Amaker, 1988; Nathan and Doolittle, 1987). Devolution and decentralization varied by state and program (Lester, 1986; U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1993). Fair housing enforcement by states increased (Lamb, 1991) and fair employment enforcement showed a mixed approach (Wood, 1990).

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