Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Workplace Discrimination’

Lawmakers Turn Back the Clock on Women's Rights

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Image: Linda MericOn this year’s Equal Pay Day, Linda Meric, the executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women 9to5.org, explains why pay equity is an economic plus for the United States

On April 5, 2012, Governor Scott Walker signed a repeal of Wisconsin’s 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed victims of workplace discrimination to seek damages in state courts. Wisconsin was one of 44 states with laws providing remedies for employees who experience discrimination. When the bill was enacted, Wisconsin ranked 36 in the nation in gender equity; since then the state improved ten places in that ranking. Yet, instead of continued progress, Walker chose to protect companies proven to violate state law and hurt Wisconsin’s families and economy.

Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman, a major force behind the repeal, claims money is more important to men than to women.  With misogyny taking center stage this 2012 election cycle, let’s hope we don’t see repeats of this attack on equal pay for equal work. But so far, this “war on women” has legislators voting to limit women’s control over their health, men of national and international prominence assaulting women physically and verbally with carte blanche, candidates speaking against women serving in combat, and new data proving women pay more than men for the same health insurance. And the rhetoric claiming pay discrimination doesn’t exist is growing louder.

The simple truth is that a significant pay gap exists for women and people of color. In almost all the occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn less than men. Today, April 17, is Equal Pay Day. People across the country are protesting the pay gap that is still shortchanging women. Women were paid 77 cents for every dollar men got paid in 2010 annual earnings. For women of color, the pay gap is even wider. African American women earned 67 cents and Latinas 58 cents for every dollar earned by white males, the highest earners.

Women don’t choose to earn less. But the pay gap is affected by several factors including occupational segregation—women who work primarily with other women in undervalued, underpaid occupations. For example, women make up 97 percent of office workers, 88 percent of home health care workers, 95 percent of child care workers, and 71 percent of restaurant servers. Overall, women remain overrepresented among low-wage workers, making up an estimated 49 percent of the workforce, but 59 percent of the low-wage workforce.

Even when working in the same occupation as a man, women earn less. The same is true for workers of color compared to white workers. Women lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to over a million, over their careers. That means less money to make ends meet and achieve economic security for families today. It also means less retirement savings for tomorrow—earning less, there is less to save, and social security and pensions are based on earnings.

Another cause for gender wage inequity is the lack of family flexibility. Too many working women are penalized financially for family caregiving because they lack access to policies such as paid sick days and family leave. This is particularly troublesome for single low-wage earning women with children, who on average have the lowest annual income.

?And then there’s the illegal gender discrimination that still occurs. For example, recent cases against Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer, allege unequal pay for equal work and lack of promotional opportunities for women. These practices still happen, which makes it more important than ever to have laws on the books like the one repealed by Governor Walker, which allowed women their day in court.

Governor Walker, other elected officials and even some presidential candidates are turning back the clock on women’s rights, and putting women’s economic security in further jeopardy, at a time they should be taking steps to assist women in getting ahead and strengthen the economy.

Pay equity is good for the the nation’s financial health—it reduces poverty and stimulates the economy. It reduces stress-related health problems and health care costs. The World Economic Forum estimates closing the employment gender gap could increase U.S. GDP by up to 9 percent.

The country is leading up to an election where women will play a major role in choosing our president. Candidates need to focus on issues that are important to women. Contrary to Senator Grothman’s fictitious claims, women do care about money. So for those political candidates vying to win the women’s vote, a word to the wise: focus on pay equity and the economy. All women deserve to be paid fairly, and when they are, their families and the economy will win.

About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. 9to5 is one of the largest national membership-based organizations of working women in the U.S., creating a powerful force for change. Founded in 1973, 9to5 empowers women to organize and lead campaigns on family-friendly workplace policies, equal opportunity and economic security issues. To learn more visit 9to5.org or call the Job Survival Helpline at 800.522.0925.

Employment Commission Ruling Protects Transgender Individuals from Workplace Discrimination

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Our guest bloggers are Jeff Krehely and Crosby Burns, who work on the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress.

Late yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a comprehensive ruling giving transgender individuals sorely-needed federal protections against discrimination in the workplace. According to the ruling, employers who discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of gender identity can now be found in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, specifically its prohibition of sex discrimination in employment.

This ruling marks the first time that the EEOC has held that transgender people are protected from discrimination by federal law. Chris Geidner broke the story late last night in Metro Weekly:

“The opinion came in a decision delivered on Monday, April 23, to lawyers for Mia Macy, a transgender woman who claims she was denied employment with the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) after the agency learned of her transition. It also comes on the heels of a growing number of federal appellate and trial courts deciding that gender-identity discrimination constitutes sex discrimination, whether based on Title VII or the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

The EEOC decision, issued without objection by the five-member, bipartisan commission, will apply to all EEOC enforcement and litigation activities at the commission and in its 53 field offices throughout the country. It also will be binding on all federal agencies and departments.

The implications of this ruling are far-reaching. Prior to yesterday’s ruling, only 16 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity. Going forth, this precedent-setting decision puts in place comprehensive protections for transgender workers that apply to both private and public employees across the entire United States.

Specifically, thanks to the ruling in this case (brought forward by the Transgender Law Center) transgender people are now protected by federal law and have legal recourse if they are denied a job or fired because they are transgender. Should a transgender person file a complaint with the EEOC and should the EEOC determine that case has merit, the EEOC now has the legal standing to sue the employer for discrimination under Title VII.

This ruling comes at a time when transgender Americans face near-universal discrimination and harassment in the workplace. According to the most comprehensive study on transgender discrimination to-date, 90 percent of transgender individuals have experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, or took actions to avoid it. This includes 47 percent of transgender individuals who have experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired, or denied an otherwise deserved promotion based solely on their gender identity. What’s more, race multiplies the effect of discrimination, with transgender people of color reporting especially high rates of discrimination on the job.

Unfortunately, workplace discrimination poses a significant threat to the economic livelihood of transgender individuals and their families, who report higher rates of unemployment, underemployment, and poverty than their non-transgender counterparts. Workplace discrimination leaves far too many transgender individuals without a steady income to buy groceries, pay the utility bills, and make ends meet in an already struggling economy. That’s why yesterday’s ruling from the EEOC is so important for transgender workers and their families.

EEOC’s ruling has the potential to substantially impact the legal landscape for transgender workers—not to mention their employers. Companies in jurisdictions where gender identity-discrimination was already illegal prior to this ruling have wisely taken steps to avoid financially painful lawsuits by ensuring discrimination does not go unchecked against their workers, including those who are transgender.

Given yesterday’s decision, companies in all 50 states would also be wise to take similar steps. These steps include adding “gender identity” to existing company nondiscrimination and anti-harassment workplace policies as well as updating any staff diversity training programs. It is worth mentioning, however, that many companies both big and small already have these policies in place. As detailed in this report from the Center for American Progress, companies adopt these policies in large part because they actually help improve the bottom line (in addition to just being the right thing to do).

Employment is fundamental for people to support themselves and their families. Yesterday’s ruling by the EEOC helps ensure workers are not forced out of a job and into the ranks of the unemployed based solely on their gender identity. To that end, we urge Congress to pass theEmployment Non-Discrimination Act and the president to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to have corporate policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Federal policymakers should take advantage of all tools at their disposal to put LGBT people on a level playing field in the workplace. It’s the right thing to do – both for people and for business.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on April 24, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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