The administration, sharply breaking with past policy, said yesterday that it will not go to court to win class-action decisions in job bias cases.
Instead, the administration said it will seek "remedies such as back pay, retroactive seniority, reinstatement, hiring and promotional priorities" on a case-by-case basis "to ensure that any individual suffering employment discrimination on account of race or sex be placed in the position that he or she would have attained in the absence of such discrimination."
The new policy was presented yesterday by William Bradford Reynolds, who heads the Justice Department's civil rights division, in testimony before the House subcommittee on employment opportunities.
Reynolds' statement drew bipartisan criticism from several members of the Democrat-dominated panel. Subcommittee chairman Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.) accused the administration of effecting "a shocking departure in the field of civil rights."
Justice Department practice of seeking class-action job-bias remedies had gone "well beyond the traditional view that a racial or sex preference is permissible" only to correct a wrong affecting "an individual victim of proven discriminatory conduct," Reynolds said.
Accordingly, he said, the department "no longer will insist upon or in any respect support the use of numerical or statistical formulae designed to provide non-victims of discrimination preferential treatment based upon race, sex, national origin or religion."
The Reagan policy contradicts the philosophy that racism and sexism are systemic and institutional problems requiring broad-based solutions.
That philosophy underlies administrative approaches to employment discrimination cases taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an independent federal agency, and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, an agency within the Department of Labor.
OFCCP, for example, sets "goals and timetables" for minority/female hiring on federally financed construction projects. The aim of this "affirmative action" is to ensure employment of women and minorities who presumably might not have been hired solely because of race or sex.
How, or whether, the Justice Department's future handling of job bias cases would affect current EEOC and OFCCP practices was not discussed at the hearing. But critical subcommittee members expressed concern that Justice is trying to get out of the civil rights business through a kind of administrative banktruptcy, by taking on too many individual job bias cases to handle properly.
"If you're going to proceed this way, you're going to have to triple the staff" of the department's civil rights division "because the caseload will increase" under the administration's new policy, Hawkins said.
"But, you're not going to have the staff to do it. You're going to have a lot of trouble," he said.
Reynolds said the administration has no intention of backing down on warranted enforcement of equal employment opportunity laws.