Copyright (c) 1994 University of Richmond Law Review Association
University of Richmond Law Review
COMMENT: THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1991, RETROACTIVITY, AND CONTINUING VIOLATIONS: THE EFFECT OF LANDGRAF V. USI FILM PRODUCTS AND RIVERS V. ROADWAY EXPRESS
28 U. Rich. L. Rev. 1363
Leonard Charles Presberg
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 1 (the Act) made significant changes to the major employment discrimination statutes. In addition to restoring the law that was in effect prior to a number of Supreme Court decisions which eroded the civil rights statutes, 2 the Act also added remedies that were omitted from previous legislation. 3 One important area that was unclear at the time of the Act's passage was the issue of retroactivity. In light of the Act's unclear legislative history, 4 ambiguous
statutory language, 5 and seemingly contradictory Supreme Court precedent, 6 the Act's retroactive nature has been widely litigated 7 and discussed. 8
The Supreme Court ruled on the retroactivity issue in the companion cases Landgraf v. USI Film Products 9 and Rivers v.
Roadway Express, Inc. 10 In these cases, the Court refused to apply certain provisions of the Act to past conduct. In making these rulings the Court defined a new approach to determine a statute's retroactivity: a court must first determine the congressional intent as to the retroactivity of the statute; if there is no clear statement of such intent, the court will apply the statute retroactively only if vested rights are not affected. 11
Examination of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Landgraf and Rivers decisions must begin with a general discussion of retroactivity. Courts have traditionally looked upon the retroactive application of statutes with disfavor. 12 In fact, several constitutional provisions specifically prohibit certain ...
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