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Modern Statutory Interpolation: Correcting Court-Made Deficiencies in Title VII Law

By Jordan Boudreaux. Full Text. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a monumentally important piece of legislation that ensures all Americans can enjoy a fair workplace, free of discrimination. Even so, the federal circuits remain split on a significant aspect of Title VII’s interpretation. Notably, in some circuits, employees can still be scheduled or transferred based on their protected class, with minimal redress under Title VII.

In Hamilton v. Dallas County, the Fifth Circuit upheld an employer’s explicitly sex-discriminated schedule as unactionable under the court’s standard. In doing so, the Fifth Circuit temporarily validated explicit discrimination in a key aspect of employment: the hours that an employee works. This Note argues that Hamilton does not exist in a vacuum and that the very possibility for the court to rule as it did in Hamilton is indicative of broader deficiencies in Title VII’s case law and statutory interpretation.

This Note reviews circuit courts’ interpretations of Title VII and showcases how those courts ingrained bad precedent into longstanding law through questionable interpretations. While this Note gives particular attention to Hamilton and the specific issue of discriminatory scheduling and transfers, it more broadly criticizes courts’ general willingness to introduce arbitrary limitations to Title VII that prevent genuinely harmed individuals from seeking recovery. In questioning courts’ interpretive consistency, this Note also highlights the methodological and practical shortcomings of applying a textualist interpretive methodology to Title VII. This Note concludes by proposing a uniquely broad and purposive interpretation of Title VII. Through this, this Note builds off of other scholars’ acknowledgements of the Civil Rights Act as a uniquely influential statute, as well as William Eskridge’s particular advocacy for broad interpretations of culturally ingrained statutes.