The civil rights movement in the United States began slowly. Changing centuries of discriminatory practices across an entire country was not a task that was without opposition, and ignorance on the part of the average citizen. However, when that ignorance was institutionalized within businesses, the wheels of justice needed a significant push in order to begin to afford black American access to the same opportunities which Caucasian-Americans enjoyed. Toward this end, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission actively sought out target candidates which would have the largest impact on moving the civil rights agenda forward.
In 1973, a suit filed against the worlds largest automaker, General Motors, the EEOC alleged that the corporation actively discriminated against black, Hispanic and women workers. At the time of the suit's filing, the company had 6.4% of its journeymen (skilled labor) positions filled by minority workers. Under terms of the agreement, the company would seek to raise that quota to 10%. Regarding women, the company had a 20% labor force of hourly workers who were women. Under the agreement, the company said its new hiring programs would target a quota of 28% women.
This settlement was reach outside of a protracted legal battle in the courts. In light of the cultural direction of the decade, and the influence the EEOC was having in the marketplace securing a more balanced workplace for minorities, the Company chose to settle the suit. By following a proactive policy rather than an adversarial one, both the company and the EEOC were able to complete negotiations while remaining in a positive light in the marketplace of public opinion.
The negotiations reached a settlement which included significantly more benefits for women and minorities than promises of changed future hiring practices. GM agreed to pay over $42 million dollars in set aside grants, educational funding, and employee training programs in order to facilitate the process of equality within the company, and for the families of company employees. The monetary award included:
15 million in endowments and scholarships to colleges and technical schools, primarily to assist G.M. employees and their family members.
Affected class' members, women, blacks, and Hispanics, would receive preferential distribution of the funds.
8.9 million was set aside for training programs for over 250 women and minorities group members. The target of this program was to increase white collar job placement of minorities to 15% and women to 25%.
A million dollars was set aside for back pay, and to resolve outstanding individual complaints which were filed against the company and were still outstanding at the time of the settlement.
College endowment funds were also part of the settlement. General Motors agreed to support 28 different educational institutions with endowments of 250,000 each, to be paid over 5 years.
An additional $1 million would be given to a number of other universities.
A million would be given to a number of 2-year technical and vocational schools which were selected with the help of federal supervision.
1.25 million would be given in grants to support minority business enterprises.
2.2 million would be spent by the company to send some of its existing female black and Hispanic executives to universities where they could learn additional management skills.
A million would be spent on training and workshops for clerical employees in attempts to prepare them for better paying positions.
A million would be spent by the company to train women for foremen positions, and supervisors over manufacturing operations.
Another $2 million would be spent training people for jobs that involved technical skills and craftsmanship.
A million would be spent on educational initiatives to train employees in mathematics skills so that they could become eligible for apprenticeship programs.
Finally, the company committed to spending $1.2 million to recruit women, Hispanic and black Americans into the skilled trades.
According to the Legal Information Institute, a civil right is:
civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, assembly, the right to vote, freedom from involuntary servitude, and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Statutes have been enacted to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, and religion, and age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, and national origin." (Legal Information Institute, online)
GM's generous response to the case was a direct confirmation of President Lyndon Johnson's desires for the Civil Rights legislation which was signed into law in 1964. The president did not believe that civil rights legislation alone would correct decades of discriminatory practices. In a speech to the graduating class at Howard University, President Johnson described the concept underlying affirmative action by asserting that civil rights laws alone are not enough to remedy discrimination:
You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: 'now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.' You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe you have been completely fair... This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity -- not just legal equity but human ability -- not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result." (infoplease.com, online)
Commenting on the terms of the GM agreement, spokesman for the UAW Peter Laarman echoed President Johnson's sentiments. The company did not see this settlement as reparations for actions which the company had deliberately taken that was discriminatory. Although terms of the agreement were that over 700 standing civil rights infringements would be corrected by the agreement, Laarman called the settlement "more prospective then retrospective" (NY Times, 1983) The company looked ahead to the future in which minority and women employees would be treated more fairly, and empowered to take advantage of the same opportunities which were available to other workers.
The Players monumental legal milestone such as the GM settlement has many key stakeholders involved in the process. The settlement was pursued for over 10 years. In order to fully understand the impact of the event, the key stakeholders, and their objectives must also be understood.
Civil Rights Legislation
Because the injustices of discrimination did not end with the passage of laws, organizations such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) were created. The NAACP was one of the most significant of these organizations, and was led by chief legislator Thurgood Marshall. During his years spent with the NAACP, Thurgood developed a unique strategy to combat racial segregation throughout the United States. Without Thurgood breaking new legal ground, the Civil Rights Movement would not have gotten off the ground with the power and unified force with which is was eventually able to direct in the direction of General Motors. Marshall believed that the only way for change to occur was by altering the laws, and Thurgood Marshal was the first Civil Rights leader willing to use the law as means of change.
The early NAACP legal work followed the pattern of organized litigation in order to facilitate specific social ends. In order to initiate the civil rights movement, Marshall pushed ahead with a Court challenge to segregated university education. Marshall complained to Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, that "we have the lawyers ready but do not have the cases." So Marshall's forces repeatedly went out looking for "a good place to bring a lawsuit," "locate a plaintiff," and an opportunity to "develop a case." (Tushnet, 1994) In essence, Marshall bypassed the legislature which was unwilling to act on the issue of civil rights at the time. Marshall and the NAACP set the precedent of judicial lawmaking. Rather than wait cases to come to him, he pursued court actions "where the apple is ripe." (Tushnet, 1994)
Clarence Thomas and the EEOC
This tactic was established as a means of bypassing the legislature in an era which the legislatures refused to address the issue of civil rights. At the time of the GM action, the legislature has finally come on board, but corporate America was still unwilling to change its patterns. Just as Clarence Thomas followed Thurgood Marshall into the Supreme Court in the 1990's, it was Thomas in 1983 who sat at the table with GM officials signing the details of this agreement. Under Thomas' leadership, the EEOC followed the same strategy of "going where the apple is ripe" in order to secure a significant victory for civil rights stakeholders.
Regarding Thomas' leadership of the EEOC, several Directors who…