From Volume 77, Number 2 (January 2004)
Understanding Title VII law has never been easy. From the beginning, there have been sharp disputes about the meaning of “discrimination” under the Act and the degree to which employers should be held strictly accountable for discriminatory actions of supervisors and employees. Early debates tended to pit those who envisioned the Act as a results-oriented measure aimed at ending racial and gender hierarchies in the workplace against those who viewed the legislation primarily as a process-oriented check against the use of race or gender as a factor in employer decisionmaking. The former generally endorsed a broad interpretation of the Act generous to plaintiffs, while the latter tended to be more receptive to interpretations favoring employers.
The fault lines in contemporary scholarship are much harder to characterize. Contemporary doctrinal debates have tended to focus narrowly on particular statutory provisions or modes of proof, and emerging theories do not always line up as predictably along ideological lines. The interplay between Congress and the Supreme Court has only made things messier: On several occasions, Congress has stepped in to express its disapproval of conservative Court rulings, without, however, dramatically changing the prevailing judicial approach to interpreting the Act. The last major statutory revision was the 1991 Civil Rights Act, a sweeping reform that affected each major framework of liability, introduced jury trials, and significantly altered the remedial scheme of the Act.