Affirmative Action Definition
Affirmative action is an active effort designed to encourage equal opportunity in employment (and education), while eliminating discrimination of the illegal type and compensating for past discriminatory injustices against minority groups and women. Such efforts are referred to as affirmative action programs, affirmative action policies, affirmative action plans or equal opportunity programs.
About Affirmative Action
Affirmative action programs, policies and plans are developed by government offices, employers, labor unions and educational institutions, to encourage or require adherence to Federal and state discrimination laws.
Affirmative action was spawned by the civil rights movement in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy coined the term in Executive Order 10925.
Since then, its fairness has been the subject of much political and judicial debate. Many opponents believe that preferential treatment of women and minority groups is at the expense of men and majority groups, particularly when workers' qualifications don't matter in the ways that employers implement affirmative action plans and policies.
Opponents contend that affirmative action violates the equal-protection rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They also contend that it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark Federal discrimination law that protects all workers from race, color and sex (gender) discrimination in employment, not just women and minorities such as African Americans, Asians and Hispanics.
As a result, opponents often refer to affirmative action as "reverse discrimination" against men and members of majority groups. In turn, affirmative action has been weakened a bit by landmark court cases, that challenged the fairness of employer implementations resulting in reverse discrimination. Still, despite legal challenge, affirmative action remains intact as a way to eliminate employment discrimination.
Affirmative action laws, programs and such require employers to ask certain questions during the job hiring process for which the answers are voluntary, such as those about race or gender. Even though the questions might seem discriminatory, they are not so-called illegal interview questions. In fact, they are "legal" questions that employers must ask to help them adhere to the rules.
Relief for Discrimination Contrary to Affirmative Action
If you reasonably believe that an employer has discriminated against you contrary to an affirmative action program or in violation of an underlying discrimination law, such as a race, color or sex discrimination law, then you may seek relief by filing a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (or a state equivalent).
You may file a discrimination charge yourself, or through your attorney or another representative. The employer in question may not retaliate against you or your representative for filing either a discrimination charge or lawsuit. The employer is also prohibited from retaliating against witnesses who testify on your behalf, such as coworkers.
The EEOC and state equivalents are swamped annually with discrimination charges related to affirmative action; subsequently, they can take on only the most legally-compelling cases. An attorney will help you to collect evidence and submit your charge in legalese, which might better compel the EEOC or a state equivalent to act on your behalf. Attorneys often take winnable discrimination cases on contingency.
More About Affirmative Action
The Web has lots of information about affirmative action and related plans, policies, programs, and laws. For more information, try searching on affirmative action using the Google search form below. Of course, tack on the specific terms for which you'd like more information; for example, affirmative action programs, affirmative action pros cons, history affirmative action or affirmative action laws. (See Search Tips.)