Introduction Of The Civil Rights Act Of 2008

Our great Nation was founded on the fundamental principle that all persons are created equal.  We have long committed, and re-committed, ourselves to ensuring that all persons have the right to prosper through hard work and ingenuity.  However, for many Americans, those rights still remain illusory.  Today, we introduce a comprehensive bill to vindicate our founding principles and make the promise of equal opportunity in the workplace a reality for all Americans. 

I am proud to cosponsor the Civil Rights Act of 2008, and I thank Senator Ted Kennedy for his leadership in the Senate on this issue, and Representative John Lewis and for his leadership in the House.  I have been a long-time supporter of efforts to rid the workplace of unlawful discrimination, and I believe the Civil Rights Act of 2008 is critical to achieving that important goal.  We must continue to fight to end all workplace discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation.

This legislation we are introducing today responds to several disappointing decisions by conservative courts.  These court rulings have misconstrued Congressional intent, and have had the effect of limiting important civil rights protections provided by Congress. 

A 2000 decision from the Supreme Court of the United States greatly restricted the capacity of workers who suffer age discrimination to sue for full relief.  In Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents,the Supreme Court ruled that, contrary to Congress’s original intent, state employers do not have to provide back pay or other monetary damages when workers are discriminated against based on age.  As a result, millions of state workers who are 40 or over lost the right to back pay.  This bill would restore Congress’s original intent that state employers give workers full relief for age discrimination, including back pay.

The bill would clarify the standard for challenging employment practices that have an unjustified discriminatory impact on older workers.  It would make clear that the standard of proof in cases alleging a disparate impact based on age is the same as in cases alleging a disparate impact based on race, color, gender, national origin, or religion. 

The bill would also restore the rights of victims of discrimination – in the workplace or otherwise – to challenge practices that have a disparate impact on certain communities based on race, national origin, sex, age, or disability.  Since the Supreme Court’s decision seven years ago inAlexander v. Sandoval, individuals can no longer challenge discrimination by entities that receive federal funding without facing the high burden of proving purposeful discrimination. 

Currently, only the federal government has the right to challenge sophisticated forms of discrimination – by federally funded entities – that falls disproportionately on certain minority groups.  So if a state decided to administer a driver’s license exam only in English, rather than administering the exam in multiple languages, a non-English speaker would be denied his or her right to have their day in court.   This measure returns the federal law to our original intentions by allowing individuals a right to challenge such practices. 


These added protections provide a significant step forward in the fulfillment of our goal to eliminate the footprint of unlawful discrimination from the workplace and broader society.  Civil rights legislation over the last 44 years – including anti-discrimination in the workplace laws – represents some of Congress’s greatest achievements.  With the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Congress gave victims of discrimination a way to address the wrongs that they have suffered and put teeth into the sanctions faced by those who unlawfully discriminate against their victims. 


Despite these gains, efforts to eliminate bias from the workplace and larger society have been largely eroded by decisions from conservative jurists on the Supreme Court and other federal courts.  Year after year, conservative courts have roll backed rights by denying certain types of relief and taking certain tools – designed to fight intentional and sophisticated forms of workplace discrimination – from individual workers.  This bill would reverse that roll back, and restore the rights of victims to have their day in court and to have meaningful remedies when those rights are violated. 


Discrimination on the basis of certain personal characteristics has no place in any workplace or in any state in America.  It is long overdue for Congress to reinforce Americans protections against bias in the workplace and eradicate barriers to full and equal participation in our society.


The time for this bill is now.  It is particularly important that, on the week our Nation observes and honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Congress has introduced this bill.  We must remain vigilant in ensuring our precious civil rights, which generations of Americans fought and bled to protect, remain available for our children and grandchildren. 


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David Carle: 202-224-3693