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Civil Rights and Affirmative Action Laws – African American Studies Essay

Affirmative action is a collection of procedures that were designed to achieve fair employment practices in the workplace. In general, to accomplish this objective, agencies responsible for the enforcement of the laws related to the affirmative action urge

employers to hire particular groups of people who were discriminated against in the past.

In general there are two strategies available for employers to follow in order to remain within the realm of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
• Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly prohibits employers to base their hiring decisions on race, sex or age, employers should disregard these characteristics when hiring.
• However, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also urges employers to hire certain group of people who were discriminated against in the past. This means that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, paradoxically, forces employers to made their hiring decisions based on race, sex or age.

The inherent conflict between these two strategies has been causing problems in the society while employers try to abide with the requirements of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The moral justification for the first strategy is self-evident whereas for the second strategy one needs explanation. According to the first strategy, no one should be denied a job that he or she can perform successfully regardless of his or her race, sex or age (Walker and Epstein, 2004). The justifying argument for the second strategy is the following. If being a woman or a African American had been prevented one to have the life standards of a white male in the past, for the purpose of the just society hiring (or awarding) a white female or an African-American person (with a contract) by taking the gender or ethnicity as well as other factors into consideration becomes a morally correct decision. Even though, this correcting past mistakes in the present time seems morally appealing, it has sparked the present “reverse discrimination” debate. In sum, affirmative action (also known as reverse or positive discrimination) has spawned many legal battles in America. Cases include the quota-driven promotion of minorities and the firing of white employees so as to comply with the Act. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled in June 2003 that race could be a criterion in university admissions (and by extension in companies and the armed forces), as long as it is not “a decisive factor”. This means that decision can be applied to workplace. The recent proposals in the U.S. Congress advocating banning affirmative action across the nation have triggered a variety of mixed responses, proving that the debates over racial preferences and opportunity is far from over.

Therefore, the employers as the main group of the stakeholders in the affirmative action domain should have comprehensive procedures at hand to sail through smoothly. Such procedures require a management strategy consisting of four fundamental actions (Fisher, Schoenfeldt, and Shaw, 1999):
• The management should frequently conduct an internal auditing to examine the status of minority, female and disabled workers. Moreover, organizations should develop formal and written policies concerning equal employment opportunity.
• Organizations should base their decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or providing benefits to their employees on objective and job-related criteria. For example, experts trained in performance-rating techniques should assess job performance in organizations.
• Organizations should develop grievance procedures to minimize the involvements of the agencies responsible for the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into their employment practices.
• In case of the evidence for discrimination exists, the organizations should develop policies to correct the situation.

Being a foreigner who is not considered as a minority and whose forefathers had not been discriminated against, the equal opportunity employment consequence of Civil Rights Act of 1964 will affect my employment situation positively through its first strategy. However, because of the second strategy of Civil Rights Act of 1964, I might end up disqualified for a job because of these very characteristics due to the possibility that an African-American female applying for the same job.

However, this second possibility that would affect my future employment situation negatively does not prevent me from arguing that the equal opportunity laws should stay as it is because the discriminative potentials in the society have not been eliminated fully.

Epstein, L. and Thomas G. Walker. Rights, Liberties and Justice. CQ Press
Fisher Cynthia, Lyle F. Schoenfeldt, and James B. Shaw (1999). Human Resource Management. Houghton Mifflin Company.
Civil Rights Act 1964, Retrieved December 2, 2004 from