EEOC Issues Opinion Letter on Section 707 of Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On September 3, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued an opinion letter in response to a request from a member of the public asking for clarity on the EEOC’s interpretation and enforcement of section 707(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to a press release.

Section 707(a) of Title VII allows the EEOC to bring suit when “a person or group of persons is engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of any of the rights secured by this subchapter, and that the pattern or practice is of such a nature and is intended to deny the full exercise of the rights herein described.”

The “subchapter” referenced in section 707(a) is Title VII itself and the rights secured by Title VII are the rights against prohibited conduct made unlawful by sections 703 (discrimination) and 704 (retaliation). Title VII – which the EEOC enforces – prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

In bringing pattern or practice cases against non-government employers under section 707, the EEOC is required to follow the procedural requirements of section 706 (such as a charge, reasonable cause finding, and an attempt to conciliate the dispute) that applied to all other suits that the EEOC sought to bring under Title VII.

The letter answered two questions about section 707 actions brought by the EEOC: “Does a pattern or practice claim under section 707(a) require allegations of violations of section 703 or section 704?” and “Does a claim under section 707 require the pre-suit requirements of section 706 be satisfied before the EEOC can file suit?”

The letter concluded: “The best reading of the relevant statutory text is that the answer to both questions is yes.” The EEOC believes the better view of section 707 is that a “pattern or practice of resistance” claim must be tethered to a violation of section 703 or section 704 and must follow the procedures of section 706.

On August 27, 2020, the opinion letter was approved by a vote of the EEOC as a written interpretation or opinion of the EEOC under section 713(b) of Title VII. The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employ­ment discrimination. To learn more about the EEOC, visit www.eeoc.gov.

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