Terms You Should Know About Affirmative Action

Adverse Impact

When a selection process for a particular job or group of jobs results in the selection of members of any racial, ethnic, or sex group at a lower rate than members of other groups.

Affected Class

The legal term for any group which continues to suffer the effects of past discriminatory practices, as determined by analysis or court decision.

Affirmative Action

Specific actions in recruitment, hiring, upgrading designed and taken for the purpose of eliminating the present effects of past discrimination, or to prevent discrimination.

Affirmative Action Plan

A plan that focuses on the hiring, training, and promoting of individuals in protected classes that are underrepresented in the organization’s workforce.

Affirmative Recruitment

Special recruitment efforts undertaken to assure that qualified protected class members are well represented in the applicant pools for positions from or in which they have been excluded or substantially underutilized.

Applicant Pool

All people who have applied for a particular job or group of jobs during one period of opening. The collection of candidates from whom the selection or selections for available positions may be made.

Bakke Decision

The first affirmative action case brought to the Supreme Court in 1978.

Career Ladder

A hierarchy of jobs consisting of series of more complex duties and responsibilities within a general occupational area.

Civil Rights

Personal rights guaranteed and protected by the Constitution; i.e., freedom of speech, press, freedom from discrimination.

Class Action

A lawsuit brought by one or more individuals on behalf of themselves and "all others similarly situated." The purpose of a class action is to obtain a judicial remedy which not only eliminates a wrong committed against an individual, and compensates him or her for the effects of that wrong, but which also provides such remedies for all others who have suffered as a result of the same practice or practices.

Comparable Worth

Payment of wages based on the value of the work performed taking into consideration such factors as education, training, skills, experience, effort, responsibility and working conditions. Often this is talked about when comparing the salaries for jobs that are traditionally female to salaries of those that are traditionally male.


A situation in which an agency fully meets the requirements of laws, rules and regulations; and court cases which mandate nondiscrimination and affirmative action.

Compliance Agency

Any local, state, or federal government agency which administers laws or regulations in the EEO field.


An intentional or unintentional act which adversely affects employment or other opportunities because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, marital status, or national origin, or other factors such as age.

Disparate Effect or Disparate Impact

The result of an employment policy, practice, or procedure that has less favorable consequences for a protected class than for the dominant group.

Disparate Treatment

Employment practices such as the use of tests or educational requirements (which are fair and neutral on their face) that are applied or administered in an unfair manner. An example would be using an "old boy network" to hire for jobs even though the positions have been posted.

Equal Employment Opportunity

Where employment decisions are based solely on the individual merit and fitness of applicants and employees related to specific jobs to ensure equal access in the employment process.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The federal government agency mandated to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Commission has five members, each appointed to a five year term by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of Congress. It has the power to bring suits, subpoena witnesses, issue guidelines that have the force of law, render decisions, provide legal assistance to complainants, etc., in regard to fair employment.

Equal Pay

Providing equal pay for men and women performing the same or substantially similar jobs in the same establishment (as required by the Equal Pay Act of 1963 for employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act)

Ethnic Group

A group identified on the basis of religion, color or national origin.

Executive Order

A regulation by the President of the United States or the chief executive of a state which has the effect of law.


Quantitative employment objectives which employers voluntarily set as the minimum progress they can make within a certain time period (usually one year) to better place protected-class employees in their work force.


Documents published by various compliance agencies for the purpose of clarifying provisions of a law or regulation and indicating how an agency will interpret its law or regulation.

Job Analysis

The systematic study of a job to provide information which will enable those planning examinations or other selection devices to determine the knowledge, skills and abilities required for successful performance on the job.


The term includes Blacks, Hispanics, Alaskan Natives or American Indians, and Asian or Pacific Islanders.

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)

The branch of the US Department of Labor responsible for monitoring the compliance status of and resolving complaints against all employers having contracts with the Federal Government.


A condition achieved in an organization when the protected class composition of its work force is equal to that in the relevant available labor force.

Protected Classes

Groups identified in Executive Order 6 (minorities, women, disabled persons and Vietnam Era Veterans) that are specifically protected against employment discrimination.


A fixed number or percentage of minority group members or women needed to meet the requirements of affirmative action. They were declared unconstitutional in the 1978 Bakke decision.

Racial/Ethnic Groups

These groups include Blacks, Hispanics, Asians or Pacific Islanders, and American Indians or Alaskan Natives.

Reasonable Accommodation

The changing of environment, schedules or requirements to adapt to the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified handicapped applicant or employee.

Sexual Harassment

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace which interferes with a person’s work performance, or creates a hostile or offensive work environment.

Sexual Orientation

A private preference of an individual protected by Executive Order No. 28 for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality; or a history of such a preference; or an identification with having such a preference.

Systemic Discrimination

A pattern of discrimination throughout a place of employment (or program) that is a result of pervasive, interrelated actions, policies or procedures.

Time Table

A specified time frame, required in all affirmative action plans, within which an employer must achieve established numerical employment goals.

Under Utilization / Under Representation

Term used to describe a situation wherein a lower number of protected class employees are represented than parity would predict.


A person who served in the Armed Forces of the United States during a period specified and was honorably discharged or was released under honorable circumstances. Armed Forces is defined as the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.

Work Force Analysis

A statistical analysis of the numbers and percentages of all employees of a specific employer by race, ethnic origin, sex, Vietnam Era Veteran and/or disability status by job category and level.

University of Rhode Island: Glossary of Affirmative Action Terms
Diversity Made Simple: Understanding Important Terms