Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘women’

Want To Shrink The Wage Gap? Unions Are One Powerful Solution

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
Laura ClawsonThere’s a stereotype of union members as, well, men. You know: The sweat-stained, blue-collar guy toiling at the construction site, or sweating in a factory. To be sure, it’s a stereotype that’s grounded in reality. Historically, unions have been a powerful conduit that enabled blue-collar men to enter and then build the American middle class. Labor unions succeeded in limiting their working hours, improving the safety of their workplaces, and raising their pay. But that’s only a small piece of the overall union movement.Take women, for example. In 2014, women made up 45.5 percent of all union members, up from 33.6 percent in 1984, according to a new report on women in unions from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

And being a union member can make a big difference for women, raising wages and shrinking the gender wage gap. Keep reading below to see just how stark these differences can be.

  • Among full-time workers ages 16 and older, women represented by labor unions earn an average of $212, or 30.9 percent, more per week than women in nonunion jobs (Figure 1). Men of the same age range who are represented by unions earn, on average, $173, or 20.6 percent, more per week than those without union representation (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015c). Earnings data in this section are not controlled for age, education, or industry; when controlled for these factors, the union advantage is smaller but still significant, especially for women and minorities (Jones, Schmitt, and Woo 2014).
  • Union women experience a smaller gender wage gap. Women who are represented by labor unions earn 88.7 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, a considerably higher earnings ratio than the earnings ratio between all women and men in the United States (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015c).
  • Women of all major racial and ethnic groups experience a union wage advantage. The difference in earnings between those with and without union representation is largest for Hispanic workers. Hispanic women represented by labor unions have median weekly earnings that are 42.1 percent higher than those without union representation. Hispanic men with union representation have earnings that are 40.6 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts.

Women represented by a union are also more likely to get health insurance and a pension. The overall effect is that unions are helping to lift women into financial security and move workplaces toward equality, just as they helped create the middle class during the 20th century. It’s one more thing to think about as we continue to watch Republicans attack unions and everything they stand for.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 7th, 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.

The Country’s Job Creators Are Increasingly Women Of Color

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Bryce CovertShelly Kapoor Collins had spent more than 10 decades in technology, but she felt that something was still missing from her career. “I knew that I loved tech, but I never quite understood the concept of working for someone else,” she said.

And eventually, the mother of a 10-month-old daughter who was pregnant with a son got sick of waiting for the right time to branch out on her own. So she decided to go ahead and launch her company, Enscient Corporation. And she couldn’t be happier.

“The lesson I learned is that you can’t wait for the right time, you have to be the one to pick the right time,” she said. Now she’s taken her experience in the tech world — first at MCI, then at Oracle — and put it to work serving clients in government. “It was chaotic, but I thrived on the chaos,” she said of her experience launching a company while parenting young children with her husband. “I felt like I had found what I was looking for and I could sink my teeth into it.”

It seems that a lot of American women have decided that it is their time to take the same dive. According to an analysis of new data on business creation from the Census Bureau conducted by the National Women’s Business Council, woman-owned businesses increased 27.5 percent between 2007 and 2012, adding 2.1 million to the total, outpacing the growth the 20 percent growth they saw in the five years before that. Women now run more than 36 percent of all businesses (that aren’t farms), up from just under 30 percent in 2007.

Businesses owned by men, meanwhile, just puttered along. They grew less than 6 percent between 2002 and 2007 and less than 8 percent between 2007 and 2012.

And companies run by women now employ 8.9 million people. In fact, the number of people working for a woman-owned business increased 19.5 percent, while it only increased 11.5 percent for those run by men.

The increases are even more dramatic for businesses started by women of color like Kapoor Collins, who is Indian American. Businesses owned by black women increased 67.5 percent between 2007 and 2012, versus less than 19 percent growth for those started by black men. Nearly 60 percent of all businesses run by a black person are now run by women. Hispanic women saw an even bigger gain, as their businesses increased more than 87 percent in the same time period compared to about 39 percent growth for Hispanic men. And those run by Asian American women grew 44 percent, compared to 25 percent for Asian American men.

Of course there are still far more companies run by men. The total came to nearly 15 million as of 2012, compared to 9.9 million owned by women.

And money can be a concern. Kapoor Collins has experienced funding hurdles firsthand. When she decided to launch a new product that helps politicians and nonprofits fundraise, she needed funding herself to get it up and running. Two things got in her way, though: one is the time demand of fundraising for someone with young children, and the other was plain sexism. “Men give to men, they raise from each other and give to each other,” she said. “It’s an old boys’ network. As a woman, it’s hard to tap into that.” In the end she decided to have her company fund the project itself.

It’s a well-known problem that women struggle to raise money. They only net 13 percent of of venture capital funding and get less than 5 percent of government contracts. Business school students are four times more likely to recommend investing in a company led by a man, something that holds true even with the exact same pitch.

And once they get up and running, women’s businesses can struggle to bring in the big bucks. The vast majority of companies they own bring in less than $25,000 in receipts and companies that size saw the highest rate of growth. Just 1.8 percent make it past the $1 million revenue mark, compared to 6.3 percent owned by men.

Still, Kapoor Collins thinks the trend of women starting companies will only continue thanks to the visibility of female businesswomen like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. “Women can’t be what we can’t see,” she said. But things have changed. “Mentorship is on the rise, contributing to more women doing and starting businesses.”

And her message to any woman who might be considering making that move herself: jump in. “The worst thing you can do is to not do it,” she said.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 20, 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.

On Equal Pay Day, Mind the Gap, All $431,000 of It

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Image: Mike HallToday, Equal Pay Day, marks the day when women workers close the 2014 pay gap, and that wage gap is huge. Women, on average, earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men’s wages and that adds up to more than $10,800 a year and more than $400,000 over a career.

A new report finds that wage gap is even wider for mothers, especially single mothers and mothers of color, most of whom are essential breadwinners and caregivers for their families.

The report, An Unlevel Playing Field: America’s Gender-Based Wage Gap, Binds of Discrimination and a Path Forward, by the National Partnership for Women & Families, finds mothers who work full-time, year-round in the United States are paid just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers who work full-time, year-round. Single mothers are paid just 58 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. And African American and Latina mothers suffer the biggest disparities, being paid just 54 cents and 49 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers.

National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said:

“At a time when women’s wages are essential to families and our economy, the persistence of the gender-based wage gap is doing real and lasting damage to women, families, communities and to our nation. It defies common sense that lawmakers are not doing more to stop gender discrimination in wages.”

In 2009, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied many pay discrimination victims their day in court. But since then, Republican lawmakers have blocked votes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

That legislation would strengthen penalties that courts may impose for equal pay violations and prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about or disclose information about employers’ wage practices. The bill also would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance—not gender.

The bill was reintroduced last month by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who said:

“Equal pay is not just a problem for women, but for families, who are trying to pay their bills, trying to get ahead, trying to achieve the American Dream and are getting a smaller paycheck than they have earned for their hard work.”

Last April, President Obama signed two executive orders on equal pay, one that banned retaliation against employees of federal contractors for discussing their wages and another that instructed the U.S. Department of Labor to create new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on employee compensation. While these actions will help federal contractor employees, congressional action is needed to end gender-based pay discrimination for all workers.

Here are some other facts on unequal pay and the wage gap between men and women.

  • If the pay trends of the past five decades remain the same, it will take nearly another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity with men.
  • If women and men received equal pay, the poverty rate for all working women and their families would be cut in half from 8.1% to 3.9%.
  • The gender wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among nonunion workers.
  • Union women working full-time earn, on average, 90.6% of what their male peers earn.
  • The wage gap for union members fell 2.6 cents between 2012 and 2013 but was virtually unchanged for nonunion workers.
  • Paying women the same wage as their male peers would have added an additional $448 billion to the economy in 2012 or roughly 3% of the country’s GDP.
  • 62% of women who work in the private sector report that discussing pay at work is strongly discouraged or prohibited, making it harder for women to discover if they are missing out on wages they deserve.
  • Requiring employers to disclose employee pay rankings would allow women to know if they are being paid the same wage as comparable workers.




This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 14, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Is Transparency The Tool Women Need to Revolutionize Their Workplaces?

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Bryce CovertThe United States is one of just three countries in the world that doesn’t require paid maternity leave. Just 12 percent of people who work in the private sector are offered paid family leave. That’s one of many major hurdles women, particularly mothers, face in the workplace.

But women make up half of the labor force. So what can be done to change that picture so that they aren’t so often stuck between a rock and a hard place? Two new websites have one answer: transparency.

Ursula Mead is a self-described working mom and “data geek.” “I come from an area where data can really help you make good decisions and help you understand situations,” she explained.

So with InHerSight, a website that allows people to anonymously rate their workplaces on a variety of metrics such as paid maternity leave, flexible work, and women’s representation and opportunities, she’s decided to apply data to the problems facing women in the workforce. To her, it feels like a faster and more effective way to tackle them. “Some of the other solutions that are out there just weren’t resonating with me,” she said. “I don’t have time for a Lean In circle.” She noted that mentorship doesn’t address issues on a large enough scale, company initiatives are unaccountable to the employees themselves, and policy changes, while important, are “just slow.”

For Sarah Seltzer and Meredith Clark, the decision to start Having It Some, a Tumblr that collects anonymous submissions on companies’ paid family leave policies, came from watching friends struggle with parenting and work. “In the last two years, I’ve been hearing more and more horror stories from friends about companies that didn’t have any maternity leave or having to craft their own or getting job offers rescinded when they told their future bosses they were pregnant,” Seltzer said. “I started becoming really curious as to what companies offer new moms.”

Seltzer and Clark feel that it’s an important conversation to have, and sooner rather than later, but that many people aren’t thinking about it. “We talk about navigating salary negotiations or vacation benefits, but it doesn’t feel like there’s as much of a discussion around the importance of trying to figure out what you might be getting into where family leave is concerned,” Clark said. “We’re encouraging people to really start advocating and asking those questions as early as possible.”

That’s because Seltzer says she’s seen many friends’ careers derailed by workplaces that couldn’t accommodate their needs. “I think some women are changing their career options based on things like how family-friendly their workplace is rather than just what the best fit for them might be,” she said. “If there was more transparency, at least it would help people make informed decisions.” She also noted that being able to compare a particular company to the others tagged in the same industry can be useful. “That can actually give you leverage,” she said, to get a company to consider more generous benefits if peers are already doing the same.

Mead hopes InHerSight will give women a way to pick the right workplaces for their needs. Part of the mission is to “help women find what they’re looking for and improve what they get” at work, she said. She thinks women themselves are best able to articulate what they need as well as what’s actually happening inside a given company. “I’m giving them that platform,” she said.

She also thinks it will be useful to employers. “I think it’s in companies’ interests to figure out what they need to do to attract and retain that top female talent,” she said. “Companies could use this as a starting point for an action plan for themselves.” The website can certainly point out when a company’s policies are simply lacking. But it can get more nuanced metrics around those it already has about how comfortable female employees feel using them. Some companies have even told Mead they want to send the site to their employees to gather ratings. “They’re essentially saying that they are going to own these numbers and they want to be held accountable for them,” she noted.

Seltzer and Clark they also think that companies can respond to their anonymous data. “One person emailed me saying she works at a new company and they’re going to use one of the entries on our site to help model their policy because they think it’s good,” Seltzer noted.

Both websites recognize that men are increasingly interested in figuring work/life balance out as well. “I would love for men to open up their company handbooks,” Clark said. She noted that male friends have looked at their companies’ policies and realized that “things were written very clearly for new mothers or adoptive parents,” not necessarily new dads.

Mead agrees that men are also concerned about the things that her site’s ratings measure and that men are free to rate their companies as well. But she also noted that change shouldn’t happen just because men take up the cause. “I don’t want these things to just magically fall into place when men need them too,” she said. “That shouldn’t have to be the case.”

Both sites are new and will be most effective if they reach a larger scale. Mead says she is focused right now on getting more ratings, and while the site has thousands, she wants to take it to the hundreds of thousands. More data will mean deeper insights, such as being able to benchmark a company profile against others in the same industry or of the same size. She and her team are also working on rolling out new tools, such as seeing how the ratings on each metric vary for a given company. If a company gets a bunch of fives and ones on a given aspect, that may show something different than everyone giving threes, like perhaps using a policy “depends on your manager or your department or experiences across the company are varying widely,” she said.

Having It Some is also looking for more submissions, but has about 40 at the moment. “We have some good variety,” Seltzer noted.

The work both sites are trying to do is urgent. The United States used to beat other developed countries in our share of working women, but we’ve recentlybeen falling behind because of our lack of family-friendly policies. Meanwhile, women face discrimination or even termination for talking about their pregnancies or asking for changes to company policy. “We shouldn’t be working in an environment where a woman feels uncomfortable asking about a parental leave policy in a job interview,” Clark noted. Armed with data from these websites, women may have more options.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on March 26, 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.

Women With The Same Qualifications As Men Get Passed Over For Promotion

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Bryce CovertEven when women have the same experience, tenure, and jobs as men, they have a much lower chance of being promoted, according to a new study.

Authors Astrid Kunze and Amalia R. Miller examined private sector employment data from Norway, known as a generally women-friendly country, between 1987 and 1997. They found that even when controlling for industry, occupation, age, education, experience, tenure, and whether workers are full or part time, women are 2.9 percentage points less likely to get a promotion than men. On top of that, they found that “[f]or men, fatherhood is associated with a greater chance of promotion,” but for women, “children have a negative effect on promotion rates and that effect is even more negative if they are younger.”

Chances of promotion aren’t much better even if women stick it out with one company. Women experience internal promotion rates that are 34 to 47 percent lower than for men. It also doesn’t matter whether they’re entry-level or at the top of their company: at every level, women are less likely to be promoted to the next rung by the following year.

Given how low their chances are of advancing, it may not be surprising that women are huddled toward the bottom of the hierarchy. The authors found that the lowest rank is over 80 percent female, while men make up more than 90 percent of the employees in the top three highest ranks. This problem is persistent. “Across all years in our data, women are never more than 6 percent of the top three ranks, on average, even as their overall share of the average workplace increases from 25 to 33 percent,” the authors write. Meanwhile, female bosses are rare: more than a quarter of the workers they looked at don’t have any women leaders, while just 1 percent has all female bosses. Here in the U.S., women make up less than 15 percent of executive officers.

The lack of mobility to higher ranking jobs also impacts the gender wage gap. In their data set, women make 76 percent of men’s pay (in the U.S., that ratio is currently a similar 78 percent). But within each job rank, women make between 88 to 98 percent of what men do, and taking job rank into consideration decreases the gap by 59 percent.

Since the data for the study was collected, Norway and some other countries have implemented a gender quotas for women on boards, seeking in part to increase women’s representation in firms generally by promoting women in leadership. That may be a smart way to address it, as the study found that the more female bosses there are, the more likely it is for women below them to get promoted, while men aren’t impacted. Increasing the share of bosses that are women by .24 percent would decrease the gender gap in promotions by more than 40 percent. This “suggests that one reason for women’s slow progress to the top of corporate hierarchies is the historical male domination of those ranks,” the authors conclude.

This blog originally appear in thinkprogress.org on December 22, 2014. 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.

Pregnant Workers Need More Protection than Walmart's Giving Them

Monday, May 26th, 2014
Laura ClawsonWalmart’s habit of making pregnant women choose between their paychecks and their health by denying them light duty got the retail giant enough bad publicity to spur a change in policy. The new policy leaves Walmart a whole lot of wiggle room to continue putting pregnant women in difficult positions, but it’s an improvement. However, Elizabeth Stoker wonders why Walmartisn’t giving pregnant women the same moral standing it gives veterans, who the company is making a big push to hire:

There’s no material reason veterans make better candidates for employment at Wal-Mart than any other candidate, especially for the low-skilled labor being performed on the floor of retail shops. And yet Wal-Mart’s commitment to veterans doesn’t seem entirely out of line, as veterans are seen as people with a different moral standing than others: They have contributed something of value, and therefore are valued.Wal-Mart notably doesn’t categorize pregnant women in that same class of morally valuable person. Benefits and accommodations in work are not offered to pregnant women insofar as they are pregnant, but only insofar as they are disabled in a medical sense by the effects of pregnancy. In other words, pregnancy has simply been subsumed under the preexisting criteria of disability rather than granted its own category of consideration. […]

After all, pregnant women are at the final analysis socially valuable and morally distinct as a category of person. They ensure the ongoing life of society, and do so at personal cost: sometimes great, sometimes minor. If Wal-Mart is willing to recognize the moral significance of veterans in those terms, why not pregnant women?

The answer to the question is “because there isn’t as much public pressure and Walmart doesn’t do anything for workers without public pressure.” Besides, all it’s actually doing for veterans is hiring some of them to crappy Walmart jobs and giving some money to veterans’ programs to make itself look good. There’s no reason to believe veterans won’t be treated as badly as any other Walmart worker.Whatever your reasoning, though, pregnant women deserve stronger workplace protections than they currently have. It shouldn’t take bad publicity to get businesses to offer women light duty when they have a doctor’s note saying they need it, and policies offering accommodation shouldn’t have as much wiggle room as Walmart’s does. For that matter, women shouldn’t have to depend on having a decent boss to be able to keep working safely through pregnancy. That should be a matter of the law. Instead, pregnant women now face discrimination and Republicans are predictably standing in the way of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would strengthen protections for all pregnant women, not just the ones whose employers have gotten bad press.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on May 23, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.


It'll Be Mother's Day Every Day in Minnesota!

Monday, May 12th, 2014

seiu-org-logoIf you’re still looking for a last minute gift for Mother’s Day? Get her a place in Minnesota so she’ll have an opportunity to enjoy a dignified retirement.

It’s no secret that American women are twice as likely to retire into poverty largely due to gender inequality. Working mothers tend to earn less and take on more family obligations than their male counterparts, leaving them more vulnerable to elder poverty.

Minnesota lawmakers are closer to evening the playing field for working mothers through the Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act of 2014. This bold legislative package includes provisions to close the gender pay gap, expand family leave and sick leave, and study and create new private sector retirement savings models for workers.

Congratulate Minnesota working mothers by sharing this on Facebook. Click the image below.

Happy Mothers Day Minnesota

Although the bill still requires the signature of Governor Mark Dayton, Minnesota workers are already celebrating.

“By moving the dial on issues like closing the gender pay gap, strengthening workplace protections, and working to provide options for retirement security for those currently without access, this bill will help strengthen families throughout Minnesota,” said SEIU Local 284 Executive Director Carol Nieters.

“Our members clearly understand that women should not pay a price simply because of their gender,” said Javier Morillo, President of SEIU Local 26. “There is much work to be done, but passing the Women’s Economic Security Act will be a great victory for all workers in our state.”

If signed into law, the Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act could also be a national model for other states and Congress for how to solve the retirement security crisis for women.

That being said, it’s ok if you don’t want to move your mom to Minnesota this Mother’s Day. But in that case you might want to consider urging your state lawmakers to introduce their own version of the bill.

This article was originally printed in SEIU on May 9, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: Keiana Greene-Page

Unless Something Changes, it Will Take Women 45 Years to Earn as Much as Men

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Jackie TortoraWomen will not receive the same median annual pay as men until 2058, if current earnings patterns continue without change, announced the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) this week.

“Progress in closing the gender wage gap has stalled during the most recent decade. The wage gap is still at the same level as it was in 2002,” said Heidi Hartmann, president of IWPR. “If the five-decade trend is projected forward, it will take almost another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity. The majority of today’s working women will be well past the ends of their working lives.”

IWPR released a new fact sheet that tracks the pay gap from 1960 to today and analyzes changes during the past year by gender, race and ethnicity.

“While there is no silver bullet for closing the gender wage gap,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at IWPR and author of the fact sheet, “strengthened enforcement of our EEO laws, a higher minimum wage and work–family benefits would go a significant way toward ensuring that working women are able to support their families.”

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on September 20, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.


Iowa Supreme Court re-affirms statutory right of jittery, insecure spouses to interfere in the workplace

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Curt SurlsImagine the pilot episode of a revival of the 1970’s situation comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”  It is July 2013.  After a painful break-up with her fiancé, 30-year-old Mary Richards relocates to Des Moines, Iowa, to start a new life.

Mary interviews for a secretarial position at a local television station with Executive Producer Lou Grant.  Lou is an overweight, balding, married father of three grown daughters.  Lou offers Mary an associate producer position, reporting directly to him.  Lou’s wife Edie is threatened by the presence of an attractive, young woman in the workplace.  Edie demands that Mary be fired immediately.  Lou admits that he is attracted to Mary, even though their workplace relationship has been strictly professional.  Lou fires Mary.  He replaces her with Rhoda.  In Iowa in 2013, Mary has no legal recourse.

This month, the Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed its controversial December 2012 decision holding that a fifty-something Fort Dodge, Iowa dentist acted legally when he fired his 32-year-old dental assistant for being too attractive.  Although the dental assistant had shown no interest in her married boss, both the dentist and his wife feared that he would be powerless to resist her charms.  In a decision insulting to both major genders, the Court reasoned that the firing did not constitute gender discrimination because it was not “because of sex.”  Instead, the Court reasoned, it was motivated by the dentist’s feelings of attraction for a specific person (I suppose you could call it “because of sexy”).

The latest version of the case, Melissa Nelson v. James H. Knight, DDS, P.C. can be read in full here.

Here is the official photo of the Justices of the Iowa Supreme Court.  See if you can spot what they all have in common.


Melissa Nelson was only 20 when she was hired by Dr. James H. Knight as a dental assistant.  For ten years, she was an exemplary employee.  She regarded her boss as a “father figure.”  Dr. Knight, on the other hand, found himself growing increasingly attracted to his young assistant.   In 2009, Dr. Knight’s wife insisted that her husband’s unilateral attraction to Ms. Nelson was a threat to their marriage.  Dr. Knight and his wife consulted with the senior pastor of their church, who blessed the decision to terminate Ms. Nelson.   Ms. Nelson sued for gender discrimination.  The trial court and the Supreme Court of the State of Iowa agreed with the Knights — and their pastor–and held that firing Ms. Nelson for being a potential threat to Dr. Knight’s marriage did not constitute illegal gender discrimination.

The Court’s original decision in late 2012 was greeted with outrage and ridicule.  In June 2013, the court withdrew its opinion and agreed to reconsider the matter, giving rise to the hope that they had seen the light and would permit the case to go to trial.  Those hopes were dashed when the Court reaffirmed its position that there is a difference between an employment decision based on personal feelings towards an individual and a decision based on gender itself.  “In the former case, the decision is driven entirely by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person,” stated the opinion’s author, Justice Edward M. Mansfield (he’s the one in the back row, far left).  “Such a decision is not gender-based, nor is it based on factors that might be a proxy for gender.”

Wait a minute, argued Ms. Nelson’s attorneys and reasonable people everywhere.  Of course it was “because of sex.”  If she were not female, she wouldn’t be in danger of involuntarily attracting the unwanted attention of her heterosexual male boss.  If it is illegal to sexually harass an employee, why should an employer escape liability for firing an employee out of fear that he was just about to harass her.  Under this logic, even an employee who spurns the sexual advances of her supervisor is vulnerable to dismissal under a fabricated “my wife made me fire you to save our marriage” defense.

But back to Mary Richards.  In the eponymous spin-off series “Lou Grant,” Lou found a job as a newspaper editor for the fictitious Los Angeles Tribune.   What if he re-hired Mary?  Could Edie get her fired again in California?  Not likely.

The Iowa Supreme Court was interpreting Iowa law and federal law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.   The Court relied heavily on 8th Circuit precedent holding that sexual favoritism is, in essence, a private matter between the parties that doesn’t warrant regulation as gender discrimination.  California state law takes a broader view of the impact of sexual favoritism on the workplace environment.  Our Supreme Court has recognized that sexual favoritism is not merely a private matter.  Instead, favoritism can create an atmosphere demeaning to women, giving rise to claims of a hostile work environment by both men and women.  California courts are, therefore, likely to view conduct such as Dr. Knight’s in the broader context, and find a termination under similar circumstances in California to be discriminatory.

And besides.  Why would Lou even listen to Edie?  They got divorced after the third season of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and Edie promptly remarried.  You can watch the wedding here.

Article originally appeared on CELA Voice on July 25, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Curt Surls has been practicing in Los Angeles, specializing in employment law, for almost 25 years. Mr. Surls is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and has worked for the State of California as counsel to the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations.  CELA VOICE is a project of the California Employment Lawyers Association.  Our goal is nothing short of changing the discussion about issues of importance to California employees.  Our method is simple.  We will amplify the voice of worker advocates on issues that are vital to our economy, our way of life, even our health. The contributors to the CELA VOICE bring a unique perspective to understanding what is working and, too often, what isn’t working in California workplaces.

80% of Low-Wage Workers Lack Even One Paid Sick Day a Year

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Jackie TortoraMore than four in 10 private-sector workers and 80% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. This means people, especially women who are more likely to work in low-wage jobs, constantly have to choose between their health and a paycheck.

A post in Jezebel, brought to you by the AFL-CIO, explains why the lack of paid sick days causes a ripple effect on our health and communities:

In fact, more than 80% of low-wage workers don’t receive a single paid sick day all year. This contributes to the creation of a sickness loop: contagious kids go to school because mom can’t stay home with them; expensive emergency room trips are made that could’ve been prevented; employees show up to work and spread viruses to their customers and co-workers.

When young women can’t stay home to get their sleep and soup on, they venture out into the world where they touch handrails with contaminated hands and sneeze on things. This is the sick, sad world Daria warned us about.

The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely to come to work sick with a contagious illness like the flu:

For example, more than three in four food service and hotel workers (78%) don’t have a single paid sick day—and workers in child care centers and nursing homes overwhelmingly lack paid sick days. This threat to public health is clear.

Last week, House Democrats released a women’s economic policy agenda that including expanding paid sick and family leave.

Originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on July 22, 2013.  Reprinted with permission

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

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