Title VII and the Complex Female Subject

One strength of Title VII has been its capacity to accommodate the changing conceptions of discrimination and the self-conceptions of subject groups. In the first decades of its enforcement, advocates have raised – and courts have endorsed – a range of contrasting conceptions in order to broaden the employment opportunities of protected groups. This flexibility is particularly evident with respect to women.

After exploring recent doctrinal efforts to respond to complex claimants, I address these questions and assess the prospects of change. Although the unitary or categorical notions of group identity under which Title VII has historically been enforced might run counter to this goal, two other features of Title VII jurisprudence will assist proponents of interpretive change: the demonstrated capacity of Title VII doctrine to accommodate diverse accounts of discrimination, and the integration of assumptions that will be useful to complex claimants into existing bodies of Title VII doctrine, such as sexual harassment, disparate impact, and disparate treatment law relating to stereotypes.