Equal Opportunity

Introduction to Affirmative Action

< Back to Affirmative Action

What Is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action is an umbrella term which refers to a variety of narrowly tailored and highly regulated efforts used by employers and educational institutions to overcome past and continuing discrimination in order to allow qualified women and minorities to compete equally for jobs, education, and promotional opportunities.

History of Affirmative Action

The origins of affirmative action are intricately linked to discrimination in the United States. The following is a brief outline of this history:

1940s: President Roosevelt signed an order making discrimination illegal in defense contracting.
1954: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that "separate but equal" facilities on the basis of race were unconstitutionally discriminatory.
Act of 1964: Congress passed the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin and religion in employment and education.
1965: President Lyndon Johnson signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to undertake affirmative action to increase the number of minorities they employ.
1969: Department of Labor hearings exposed continued widespread racial discrimination in the construction agency. In response, President Richard Nixon developed the concept of using "goals and timetables" to measure the progress federal construction companies were making in increasing the number of minorities on their payrolls.
1970: President Nixon extended the use of goals and timetables to all federal contractors.
1974: President Nixon declared that affirmative action programs should also include women.
1978: The U.S. Supreme Court held in Regents of California vs. Bakke that universities may take race into consideration as a factor in admissions when seeking to accomplish diversity in the student body. The court in Bakke also held that quotas cannot be used in voluntary affirmative action programs in admissions unless absolutely necessary.
1989: The U.S. Supreme Court held in City of Richmond vs. Croson that the standard to be used in evaluating affirmative action programs in contracting was one of "strict scrutiny."
1990: In 1990 Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodations.
1995: On June 12, 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena that the strict judicial scrutiny standard articulated in the Croson case also applied to affirmative action programs mandated by Congress as well as those undertaken by government agencies.
1995: On July 20, 1995, the University of California Regents voted to remove consideration of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, color or national origin in admissions, contracting and hiring.
1995: In August of 1995 Governor Pete Wilson filed suit against many state agencies and commissions which he oversees and against minority and women professional and civil rights groups challenging affirmative action programs in the state of California.
Note: This is not an official government document.