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An Economy That Works For Everyone Starts With Women

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Terrance HeathAccording to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, creating an economy that works for everyone starts with creating an economy that works for women.

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the gap between women’s earnings and men’s earnings has closed a little. The bad news is the narrowing of the gender wage gap is not due to women’s gains in the workplace, but to declining wages for men and growing inequality overall.


According to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), eliminating the gap between men’s and women’s wages would amount to a 70% raise for women.


Consider economic impact of eliminating the gender pay gap. Women are the primary breadwinners in at least 40 percent of American households. Consider what eliminating the gender pay gap would mean for these women.

  • Nearly 60 percent of women would earn more if working women were paid the same as men the same age doing similar work.
  • The poverty rate for working women would be cut in half; the poverty rate for working single mothers would fall by nearly half.
  • The US Economy would produce an extra $447.6 billion, if women received equal pay.

Like a “rising tide,” lifting these women lifts the households that depend upon their earnings, and boosts the economy. An economy that works for women, then, works for American families, too, bringing us closer to an economy that works for all. To that end EPI has introduced the “Women’s Economic Agenda,” a 12-point policy agenda that will “give low- and moderate-wage workers more economic leverage, change the rules so that a growing economy benefits hardworking Americans, and maximize women’s economic security.”

The benefits for women are clear. As I wrote in, “We Must Fight Poverty With Justice,” it’s no coincidence that women’s risk of poverty jumps drastically between the ages of  25 and 34, when their poverty rate is 6.9 times higher than men’s, or that their poverty risk doesn’t begin to come down until age 40. Women are at a higher risk of poverty during their peak reproductive years, when they begin juggling the responsibilities of work and family, and lose out on pay that’s already less than what men earn.

However, the benefits of the agenda aren’t exclusive to women. In fact, none of its 12 points are applied exclusively to women. Men, women, and children would benefit from increased wages, guaranteed family leave and paid sick leave, accessible child care, and all of the other agenda items. When the economy works for women on these 12 issues, it’s more likely to work for us all.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on November 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

Is Pregnancy Discrimination On The Rise?

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

BraniganRobertsonA woman’s pregnancy is supposed to be a reason to celebrate – baby showers, nursery decorating, and 3D ultrasounds. When you’re pregnant the last thing you should have to worry about is your job. Unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination seems to be on the rise in American workplaces. Employment lawyers like me seem to be getting more and more phone calls from women claiming that they were fired because of their pregnancy.

What is Pregnancy Discrimination?

In 2013 I got a phone call from a woman who said that she got fired after she delivered a stillborn baby. I almost fell out of my chair. The company fired her the day she returned from maternity leave. After filing the case we discovered that the company made the decision to terminate her after she informed the owners that her baby had passed. We also found out that after making the decision to terminate her, the company hired an auditor to come in and “audit” her department to find that she was performing poorly. However, documentary evidence showed that she was a great employee. The case failed to settle and proceeded to trial. The jury found that the company discriminated against her because of her pregnancy and awarded her substantial punitive damages.

While this was an unusual case, it highlights the opposite of how a company should act. A company should never make a decision to fire a woman because she is pregnant, because she is having complications, or because she is planning on taking a maternity leave. While that may seem like common sense in today litigious environment, I am continuously surprised how often expecting women are fired for suspicious reasons.

A Rise in Pregnancy Related Lawsuits

My firm receives hundreds of phone calls each year from prospective clients. Over the last year or so, we’ve noticed a lot more calls from women who believe they were fired or passed over for a promotion because of they became pregnant or had a pregnancy related disability. We’re not the only ones who have noticed this. More and more lawsuits are being filed and federal and state legislatures are enacting or trying to enact more laws to protect women.

Why are their more lawsuits? It may be because more women are career driven today than in the past. Human Resources MBA has a great info graphic discussing this. Inevitably, this topic also leads lawyers to talk more about gender discrimination (which is also unlawful under Federal and State law). Regardless of the reason, lawyers are trying to help their clients in whatever situation they happen to find themselves in.

What Should You Do If You Are a Victim of Pregnancy Discrimination

A lot of pregnant women who are still employed call my firm because they are starting to sense that their manager is upset with them. “What should I do?” “Should I go to HR?” “Should I complain?” “Can I go on maternity leave early?” All of these questions are valid but each and every situation is different. Further complicating the issue is that each state has different laws on point. For example, in California there are a multitude of laws that could apply to a woman’s situation: Pregnancy Disability Leave, the Fair Employment & Housing Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the California Family Rights Act, the Labor Code, State Disability Insurance, etc.

I first recommend that you spend some time doing basic online research. Look up your respective state’s labor department and see if there are any online resources. You should also speak with HR if your company has competent HR professionals. If you feel like the situation is worsening I recommend that you call a lawyer. Many employment lawyers like me who represent individuals will do a free consultation over the phone.

Hopefully you are never in this situation. A woman’s pregnancy should be celebrated and a time of great excitement. Although pregnancy discrimination seems to be on the rise, collectively we can fight against it by informing each other of the laws that protect women. So please do your research and don’t be afraid to call a lawyer!

If you have additional questions concerning pregnancy discrimination, visit WorkplaceFairness and see their pages on parental leave and pregnancy discrimination. If you need help finding a lawyer, visit their attorney database here.

About the Author: Branigan Robertson is an employment attorney in Irvine, California. He is a member of the California Bar and the California Employment Lawyers Association. He exclusively represents CA employees in lawsuits against employers and focuses his practice on pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination. Visit his law firm’s website for more information.

Disabled Workers Face Discrimination, but it's not Inevitable

Friday, November 13th, 2015

LauraClawsonGosh, why are people with disabilities so much less likely to be employed than people without disabilities (34 percent to 74 percent in 2013)? One reason is what researchers from Rutgers and Syracuse universities discovered when they sent out resumes for fake job applicants who either had a spinal cord injury, Asperger’s syndrome, or did not mention a disability: applicants who mentioned a disability heard back from employers 26 percent less often than applicants who didn’t mention a disability, and it was actually worse for more experienced applicants.

You know how Republicans are always railing against laws that would prohibit employers from discriminating and the like? Maybe that’s because such laws work:

The study showed that the Americans With Disabilities Act, the 1990 federal law banning discrimination against those with disabilities, appeared to reduce bias. The lack of interest in disabled workers — and especially in the rate at which they were called back for an interview — was most pronounced in workplaces with fewer than 15 employees, the study found. Businesses that small are not covered by the federal law. At publicly traded companies, which may be more concerned about their reputations and more sensitive to charges of discrimination, evidence of discrimination on the basis of disability seemed largely to disappear. The same was true at firms that receive federal contracts, which are required by the government to make a special effort to hire disabled workers.

This is why we need stronger laws and more enforcement, not Republicans blocking progress because hey, we already have laws that kinda sorta cover that.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on November 7, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.

John Kasich explains the gender pay gap: 'Do you not have the skills to be able to compete?'

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

Laura ClawsonRest easy, women, and especially women of color: If you’re being paid less than your male coworkers, it’s only because you’re worth less. Ohio governor and lower-second-tier Republican presidential candidate John Kasich got a question about his state’s gender pay gap during his appearance at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and …

“Well, a lot of it is based on experience,” Kasich replied. “A lot of different factors go into it. It’s all tied up in skills. Do you not have the skills to be able to compete?”Seeming somewhat shocked at this response, Palomarez asked, “Are you saying women workers are less skilled than men?”

“No, no, of course not,” Kasich said. “I mean, a woman is now running my campaign, and she’s doing a fantastic job. The head of our welfare reform office is a woman. I understand that if you exclude women, you’re not as effective.”

No, no, of course I didn’t mean what I said. That kind of answer must be contagious, as much as we’re hearing it from Republicans lately. Alice Ollstein helpfully offers some context on just how much Kasich didn’t mean that women deserve lower pay:

In Kasich’s own governor’s office, women workers earn nearly $10 an hour less than male workers, according to an Associated Press investigation published in 2014. That gap was just $3.99 an hour under Kasich’s predecessor, Democrat Ted Strickland.

So apparently Kasich understands that if you exclude women, you’re not as effective—but he’s also happy to underpay them. Gee, there’s a giant step toward equality.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 7, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.

Woman Fired For Being Transgender Scores A Victory

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Bryce CovertJessi Dye was excited about her new job at the Summerford Nursing Home in Alabama. Her experience watching her grandmother be put in a nursing home when she was younger made her want to help others who end up in the same situation. “She felt alone a lot of the time,” the 28-year-old said. “I wanted to be there for people, make it a little brighter place for these people who might not have somebody to visit them.”

She had also been working in fast food, but this job would come with better pay, better hours, and the possibility of fast advancement.

Yet she would only spend four hours actually doing her new job. After going through half a day of training, she says she was told to report to the manager’s office after lunch. “And the first thing the manager said to me when I stepped into his office is, ‘What are you?’” she said. “That’s not a question you ask me as a person, it’s a question you ask some little knickknack… It’s honestly not even a question for a pet.”

As a transgender woman, she had changed the photo on her driver’s license to match her gender expression, but her gender marker was wrong. That was what the manager was looking at as he asked her blunt questions about her gender. Getting a driver’s license updated can be difficult; more than 40 percent of transgender people across the country go without an ID that matches their gender identity, and 11 percent say they were denied in an attempt to update it. But having an ID that doesn’t reflect someone’s gender identity is correlated with much higher rates of discrimination and harassment.

“I can’t describe easily how that felt,” she said of that first question the manager asked her. “The closest thing I can say is that it felt like somebody punched me in the stomach.” She says that the manager not only told her he was letting her go just hours after she started, but that he confirmed it was because she is transgender.

“I walked out the door of the nursing home, said my goodbyes to the ladies I’d been working with, and made the hardest phone call of my life to my wife to say I couldn’t support us the way I’d planned on,” she said. “It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had.”

She has since received some good news: On Thursday, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented her in her lawsuit against Summerford, announced that the nursing home has agreed to pay her a financial settlement, as well as to implement a workplace nondiscrimination policy for sexual orientation and gender and to provide LGBT training for human resource employees, including the manager who fired Dye. A representative of the nursing home declined to comment on the settlement.

The policy change is the most important part for Dye. “That was more of a victory for me than any money could have ever been. Making sure the world’s a little bit safer for the next person who comes along,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to ever have to make that phone call I made that day.”

The loss of a job can be catastrophic, and losing her job at the nursing home was a blow for Dye and her wife. “Our financial stability was completely taken out from under us,” she said. She was able to rescind her two weeks notice at the fast food job, but her entire shift was laid off just a couple of months later. After that, she spent six months looking for work until she found the retail job she has now. “It’s hard to find a job in Alabama anyway, but one that’s openly accepting and easy to work with, not so much,” she noted.

The hope is also that such a case, which is likely the first of its kind won against a private Alabama employer, resonates beyond Dye. “There still seems to be a misperception among many employers that they can fire employees at will for any reason or no reason at all,” said Sam Wolfe, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “But there are federal protections against individuals because they are transgender, and we’re hopeful this lawsuit will raise awareness.”

Federal law doesn’t explicitly enumerate gender identity as a protected class against workplace discrimination. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that employer discrimination on that basis violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sex. Just in April, it ruled that the Army illegally discriminated against a transgender civilian employee by forcing her to use a single bathroom. Yet just 19 states and Washington, D.C.have laws prohibiting employment discrimination that include gender identity. The Equality Act, introduced in Congress in July, would explicitly ban employment discrimination against all LGBT people, but has not yet been passed and doesn’t have any Republican sponsors.

This is part of what motivated Dye to take action in the first place. “It was never about money,” she said. “It was about doing what’s right, standing up and and letting it be known you can’t do this to people, you can’t treat people like objects.”

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on September 11th, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Why the Fed Isn't Close to Achieving Full Employment and Shouldn’t Be Discussing Raising Interest Rates—the Case of Black Workers

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

William SpriggsThe recently released minutes of the last meeting of the Federal Reserve Board’s Open Market Committee revealed there was serious discussion of the fact the labor market still showed signs of weakness. A primary issue was the lack of evidence of strong wage growth, which would be a clear signal the labor market was tightening. This has unleashed the Wall Street bettors, who want a jump on the Fed’s changing monetary policy, giving them more active play on the bond market, where interest rate movements can fuel their gambling addiction. The voices being raised to have the Fed raise interest rates march out lots of theory to predict uncontrolled inflation, despite a global slowdown, falling oil and natural resource prices, and flat real wages. We must hope that the Fed makes policy based on what is good for the economy, not what is good for the reckless gamblers on Wall Street.

The current directive to the Fed comes from the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, which in 1978 established that the nation’s primary economic policy is to achieve full employment, within reason—not by creating unsustainable budget deficits or igniting uncontrollable inflation. Unfortunately, many have twisted the legislation’s purpose to their own ends, changing the act’s intent to balance budgets and maintain low inflation in hopes those policies don’t increase unemployment. The act does not place full employment on equal footing with fighting inflation; it merely constrains full-employment policy to a measure of prudence.

With that in mind, the Fed should understand it is not at full employment. In addition to wages rising with productivity, a main tenant of evidence of full employment, the Fed needs to embrace some additional senses of full employment. One is that discrimination would disappear, since it would become prohibitively costly in a full-employment economy.

A problem for the Fed is that there is little diversity in its staffing, which reflects the low level of diversity among economists. Economists have convinced themselves there is little to explain about the persistence of the disparity in black and white unemployment rates, the ratio of which remains stubbornly at 2-to-1. It is enough to assume there are lower skill levels among African Americans and societal structural issues that permanently disadvantage African Americans, and that these circumstances will persist no matter what the level of unemployment.

Of course, many economists do appreciate that this pat answer is hard to reconcile with the great sensitivity that the black unemployment rate has to the economy—a tightening labor market brings down the black unemployment rate at twice the rate for whites. That makes the structural argument difficult to maintain.

There is another key element. The unemployment rate gaps between blacks and whites are stubborn at every education level, and the gaps are glaring. In fact, what the unemployment rate gaps for blacks suggest is the old adage that blacks must be twice as good to compete in the labor market with whites. The unemployment rate for blacks with more education is similar to that of whites with less education. This is true for blacks at all education levels, from college graduates to associate degree holders to high school graduates. And it is very difficult to argue that those huge gaps do not reflect discrimination.

When the labor market tanks, and the number of unemployed workers per job opening goes up, the gaps faced by better educated blacks to less educated whites get wider. Black college graduates find themselves with unemployment rates closer to white high school graduates, and blacks with associate degrees find themselves with unemployment rates worse than white high school dropouts.

When the labor market tightens, unemployment rates for blacks with more education improve such that they are better than those of less educated whites, though still off the mark compared with equally educated whites. When employers are faced with two unemployed working people for each job opening, many stop seeing color and start seeing qualifications. Employers faced with a growing economy and smaller applicant pools find it would now cost to discriminate by passing over the qualified African American applicant. We don’t know what would happen if the nation maintained its commitment to full employment, because just as the black unemployment rates near parity with whites, our economic policy switches all reverse to slow the economy, increase unemployment and push blacks off the path to equality.

The Fed needs to see that its policies are part of that problem. Slowing the economy before we reach full employment means employers never have to raise wages nor understand the costs of their discriminatory practices.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 21 ,2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

Surprise! Zara, The Brand That Brought You Swastika-Stamped Handbags, Faces $40 Million Anti-Semitism Lawsuit

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Jessica_GoldsteinZara, the fast-fashion retailer that brought you a children’s t-shirt that looks like a concentration camp uniform and a handbag decorated with swastikas, is facing a $40 million discrimination lawsuit. Three employees are alleging nine causes of action: according to Women’s Wear Daily, the lawsuit makes “claims on racial discrimination, in particular anti-Semitism. It is also alleging pay discrimination and retaliation.”

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Zara’s former general counsel, Ian Jack Miller, and lists the U.S. country manager, and Zara USA’s director of expansion for North and South American, Moises Costas Rodriguez, as the other defendants. Miller started working at Zara in January 2008 and was fired in March of this year.

Miller is Jewish and alleges the discrimination he experienced was particularly harsh as a result. Though upper management didn’t know about Miller’s faith until he’d been at Zara for five years, they routinely called Jewish landlords and real estate developers with whom they worked “los judios” (Spanish for “the Jews”), whined that it was trying to work with “those people,” and generally mocked them. Once Miller’s religion came to light, he found himself cut out of crucial meetings and email chains; his annual pay raises were cut from over 15 percent to three percent.

Miller alleges that employees are favored if they are “straight, Spanish and Christian.” Spanish employees allegedly enjoyed greater job security and higher pay raises, he claims. He also alleges that he was fired the day after his legal counsel sent a letter to Zara detailing his complaints.

From Fashionista:

The lawsuits claims are specific, lewd and no doubt embarrassing to many current and former employees. The lawsuit describes a corporate culture where visits to prostitutes are a normal part of business trips and a heterosexual lifestyle is endorsed. Miller says that former Zara USA CEO Moises Costas Rodriguez bragged about the size of his penis and having sexual relations with five female subordinates, including a director of human resources, and that he sent an email to Miller highlighting language that marriage is an institution “sanctified between a man and a woman.” The suit claims that another Zara executive, Francesc Fernandez Claramunt, sent Miller’s partner, Michael Mayberry, a pornographic image of an erect and tattooed penis and that Fernandez had been trying to persuade Miller to get such a tattoo.

It wasn’t just Miller who was the alleged target of Zara’s prejudice: emails that regularly circulated among senior management reportedly contained pictures of Michelle and Barack Obama, the former serving fried chicken, the latter on an Aunt Jemima box shining shoes and in a Ku Klux Klan hood holding a Confederate flag.


In response to the lawsuit, a Zara representative told WWD, “We do not tolerate any behavior that is discriminatory or disrespectful, but value each individual’s contributions to our dynamic organization.”


Revelations like this are always a bit shocking, not because it’s so stunning that someone could still harbor such antiquated prejudices in a modern time, but really that someone could be stupid enough to document them in a work email. As no one at Zara would be encouraged to say, dayenu.


And yet, for the consumer paying attention to Zara’s practices — and really, the practices of all these fast fashion retailers — there is no real reason to be taken aback by this news. This is a store that not only has stocked its shelves with easily identifiable signifiers of the Holocaust (twice!) but has also shilled blackface necklaces.

So Zara’s corporate culture shouldn’t be all that shocking, just like there is nothing particularly jaw-dropping about Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyor of all things white, blonde and preppy, would be found guilty of religious discrimination against a potential employee who wore a hijab at her job interview; just like there is nothing especially mind-blowing about Urban Outfitters, which navigates cultural landmines with all the grace of a drunk hipster, would sell a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” that appears to be splattered with blood. We’ve reached a point where shopping at any of these places is, at best, a passive acceptance of the values they openly, eagerly uphold.


Still, would-be responsible shoppers are in a bind: it is practically impossible to know that you’re buying clothing that is not only inoffensive on its face (can’t really say enough times how easy it is to make sure Nazi regalia isn’t all over your fine fake-leather goods) but ethical in its supply chain. Stores like Forever 21, H&M and Topshop keep prices low by exploiting and endangering the lives of impoverished people, mostly women, in developing countries. Even Patagonia, probably the most high-profile advocate in the retail space for fair labor practices, can’t weed human trafficking out of its factories.

One more thing to consider: Zara founder Armancio Ortega is the second-richest man on Earth. He has a net work of $71.5 billion.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 5, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jessica Goldstein. Jessica Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress. She also writes recaps for Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture blog. Before coming to ThinkProgress, Jessica was a feature writer and theater columnist at the Washington Post. Jessica holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, she wrote for Seventeen and Her Campus. Jessica is originally from New Jersey.

Abercrombie Lost A Supreme Court Case. Could They Win A Retail War?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Jessica_GoldsteinLast fall, Samantha Elauf, a young Muslim who was denied employment at Abercrombie and Fitch because her headscarf violated the company’s dress code, took her case all the way to the Supreme Court. On Monday, SCOTUS ruled against Abercrombie, 8-1, declaring that A&F’s refusal to accommodate a hijab-wearing applicant was a violation of civil rights law.

Elauf didn’t know about Abercrombie’s policy against headscarves; the Supreme Court needed to determine if it was Elauf’s responsibility to inquire for an accommodation or if the burden was on Abercrombie to provide an accommodation without waiting for Elauf to ask. The final call: it was on Abercrombie to provide for Elauf, not the other way around, and failing to do so constituted religious discrimination.

In a statement, Abercrombie said the case will go on and pointed out that the justices did not specifically say discrimination had occured: “We will determine our next steps in the litigation.”

So Abercrombie lost a battle. But could this loss help the chain win a retail war? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time Abercrombie rebounded from irrelevance.

As we noted on this site last year, the “cool” look once exemplified by Abercrombie’s preppy offerings and its blonde, white and athletic aesthetic is no longer cool among young shoppers. At its modern peak (which is to say, the second era of Abercrombie, after then-CEO Mike Jeffries revived the long-dormant brand in 1992), Abercrombie was raking in almost $2 billion in annual sales, with 22,000 conventionally hot employees populating 700 stores. Abercrombie thrived on a narrow definition of beauty.

As Jeffries put it in a now-infamous interview with Salon in 2006, “We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that… In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends… Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Repulsive as this modus operandi may be, there was a time, not too long ago, when it was smart marketing: when everyone was watching The O.C., when Mean Girls in their nearly-identical pink-on-Wednesdays attire reigned supreme, when sameness was the order of the day.

But 2006, in fashion years, is ancient history. Today’s teenagers are drawn to the cheap, trendy stuff on the shelves of H&M, Forever 21, and Zara (though the human cost of such inexpensive, wear-it-then-toss-it clothes is devastatingly high). Looking like everyone else is so five years ago. And Abercrombie’s idea of utopia as, basically, an Aryan, Logan’s Run-like game of touch football that never ends doesn’t jive with the taste of the most racially diverse generation in history.


Sales at A&F have been on the decline for years; stores have been shuttering across the nation. So before Elauf’s case was decided, Abercrombie was in the midst of some soul-searching. (Assuming corporations are people, why can’t brands have souls?) They killed the logo. They brought light into the stores and black clothing to the shelves. The nausea-inducing amounts of perfume amid the racks was taken down by a quarter. A&F even tried to go in a hipster direction; this did not sit well with the preppy populace, Abercrombie’s core demographic. Besides, these are not the kind of seismic changes that rescue a dying brand.

Maybe, just maybe, this SCOTUS case will be a watershed moment for Abercrombie. Not only is their old mode of cool no longer cool; it is so uncool that it’s literally unconstitutional. Imagine a brave new Abercrombie where the employees — ahem, “brand representatives” — actually represent a huge swath of America’s teenage population. Imagine it being totally ordinary to stroll into an A&F at the mall and be greeted by a girl in a hijab and a guy in a yarmulke.

Or maybe Abercrombie will continue its speedy, steady fall from power. But if you happen to be personally invested in the resurgence of Abercrombie as a cultural force, consider this SCOTUS ruling cause for cautious optimism.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jessica Goldstein. Jessica Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress. She also writes recaps for Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture blog. Before coming to ThinkProgress, Jessica was a feature writer and theater columnist at the Washington Post. Jessica holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, she wrote for Seventeen and Her Campus. Jessica is originally from New Jersey.

EEOC loses battle (but not war) on discriminatory background checks

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Christian SchreiberWhen it dismissed a federal lawsuit last week, the U.S. District Court for Maryland made it even harder for workers with poor credit histories and past criminal convictions to find a job.  Civil rights advocates hope the decision is not a bellwether for similar cases pending around the country.

The lawsuit, brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged Freeman, a privately-held event-management company, with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act through its use of credit and criminal background checks.  According to the EEOC’s complaint, the employer’s decision to use background checks to screen out job applicants amounted to discrimination because it disproportionately impacted African-American and male job applicants.

Freeman’s hiring process involved detailed inquiries into both the applicant’s credit histories and criminal backgrounds.  Freeman “regularly ran credit checks for 44 job titles,” and excluded all applicants from certain positions who met any of 12 different categories of purported credit-unworthiness.  Even common credit blemishes, such as credit card charge-offs, medical liens, unpaid student loans, or foreclosures would result in the applicant being rejected.

The Freeman court joined the chorus of employers extolling what some consider the “common sense” of performing credit and criminal background checks.    These proponents also ignore the studies demonstrating that credit problems do not predict employee performance, as well as those that document atrocious error rates on credit checks.   A report released by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year found that a quarter of consumers identified errors on their credit report that might affect their credit scores.

In 2011, California limited the use of credit checks in employment.  After three prior attempts were vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger, the bill was itself an object lesson in persistence.  However, the law also established broad exceptions to the “prohibition” on employment-related credit checks, effectively blessing their use across jobs and industries where the need or utility has never been demonstrated.

In addition to the credit-check hurdle, Freeman’s standard employment application form asked, “Have you ever pleaded guilty to, or been convicted of, a criminal offense?”  Applicants were told certain convictions would not be considered in the hiring process (yeah, right), but the company acknowledged a “bright-line rule” that disqualified any applicant who “failed to disclose a conviction, seriously misrepresented the circumstances of a criminal offense, or made any other materially dishonest statement on the application.”

In June, the EEOC filed two similar complaints against Dollar General Corp and BMW, alleging that the companies’ use of criminal background checks resulted in a disparate impact against African-American job applicants.  Referred to as “disparate impact” cases, these types of challenges stand or fall on the persuasiveness of the parties’ statistical evidence.  In the EEOC v. Freeman case, the court let loose on the EEOC’s expert, excoriating his methodology and ultimately calling his findings “an egregious example of scientific dishonesty.” (Ouch.)  Though it may be possible to blunt the impact of Freeman simply by putting on better statistical evidence, the decision nonetheless entrenches practical misconceptions and legal standards that are hostile to workers.

These cases are being watched closely by consumer and civil rights advocates, who still hold out hope that the EEOC’s oversight of these employment policies will curtail the increasing use of background checks to screen out applicants.   Advocates hope Freeman doesn’t signal that more bad news lies ahead.

This article originally appeared on CELA Voice on August 19, 2013.  Re-posted with permission. 

About the Author: Christian Schreiber is an active member of the California Employment Lawyers Association, where he serves on CELA’s Legislative Committee and Wage and Hour Committee.  He is also a member of the American Constitution Society, the Public Justice Foundation, and the Consumer Attorneys of California. Mr. Schreiber received his B.A. from UCLA in 1996.

Why California Is a Pro-Union State (Sort Of)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Ask Los Angeles Times reporter Alana Semuels why union membership in California rose by 100,000 in 2012, and she’ll give you a simple answer:

“Latino workers.”

To explain the contrast between the trend in California and the United States as a whole—where union membership dropped last year by 400,000—Semuels turned to some credible sources, including Steve Smith of the state labor federation who cited “an appetite among these low-wage workers to try to get a collective voice to give themselves opportunity and a middle-class lifestyle.”

Quoting Smith and others, Semuels finds that, “After working hard to get here, many Latino immigrants demand respect in the workplace and are more willing to join unions in a tough economic environment, organizers say.”

True enough: Immigrant workers have been particularly important for unions in California and Latino organizing has helped reignite the state’s labor movement.  But that’s only part of the story.

Many California unions, allied with progressive groups up and down the state, have dedicated enormous resources to community and economic organizing. This has influenced California’s political culture. Union-friendly city councils, boards, commissions, a democratic legislature and statewide office holders produce a relatively pro-worker political and economic atmosphere.

Though employer resistance to unions can be as fierce in California as in other states, there is also a growing sense that a cooperative relationship with labor can be good business (note the expedited permitting for the construction of downtown L.A.’s Farmers Field).

California unions were ahead of the curve in recognizing the power of Latino workers and voters and then led other states in building diverse constituencies around progressive economic development strategies. The number of “living wage” districts around the state testifies to that.

There is no pro-union state in the United States. But California (with 18.4 percent of the workforce unionized) may be pointed in that direction.

Despite its failure to offer context, the Los Angeles Times piece draws the same conclusion.

“Labor’s more optimistic proponents say that California could serve as a blueprint for unions across the country as they seek to stem membership declines,” writes Semuels. “The trend comes amid forecasts that the Latino population in the United States is likely to double in two decades.”

This post originally appeared on LaborLou.com and was also reprinted on AFL-CIO NOW.

About the Author: Labor Lou – Laborlou.com began in 2009 as commentary on the Obama Presidency and then became more open-ended.  This past year Labor Lou posted several autobiographical narratives.

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