Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Study Shows Women and Men are Treated Differently at Work

Harvard Business Review, A Study Used Sensors to Show that Men and Women are Treated Differently at Work

Gender equality remains frustratingly elusive. Women are underrepresented in the C-suitereceive lower salaries, and are less likely to receive a critical first promotion to manager than men. Numerous causes have been suggested, but one argument that persists points to differences in men and women’s behavior.

 

Which raises the question: Do women and men act all that differently? We realized that there’s little to no concrete data on women’s behavior in the office. Previous work has relied on surveys and self-reported assessments — methods of data collecting that are prone to bias. Fortunately, the proliferation of digital communication data and the advancement of sensor technology have enabled us to more precisely measure workplace behavior.

 

We decided to investigate whether gender differences in behavior drive gender differences in outcomes at one of our client organizations, a large multinational firm, where women were underrepresented in upper management. In this company, women made up roughly 35%–40% of the entry-level workforce but a smaller percentage at each subsequent level. Women made up only 20% of people at the two highest seniority levels at this organization.***

 

But as we analyzed our data, we found almost no perceptible differences in the behavior of men and women. Women had the same number of contacts as men, they spent as much time with senior leadership, and they allocated their time similarly to men in the same role. We couldn’t see the types of projects they were working on, but we found that men and women had indistinguishable work patterns in the amount of time they spent online, in concentrated work, and in face-to-face conversation. And in performance evaluations men and women received statistically identical scores. This held true for women at each level of seniority. Yet women weren’t advancing and men were.

 

The hypothesis that women lacked access to seniority, in particular, had little support. In email, meeting, and face-to-face data, we found that both men and women were roughly two steps, or social connections, away from senior management (so if John knows Kate and Kate knows a manager, John is two steps from a manager).

 

Some have argued that women lack access to important, informal networks because they don’t reach out to or spend time with “the boys club.” But this didn’t hold up in our data. We found that the amount of direct interaction with management was identical between genders and that women were just as central as men in the workplace’s social network.

 

Our analysis suggests that the difference in promotion rates between men and women in this company was due not to their behavior but to how they were treatedThis indicates that arguments about changing women’s behavior — to “lean-in,” for example — might miss the bigger picture: Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior.

July 17, 2019 in Business, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Video Recording Symposium on Applied Feminism and #MeToo

Center for Applied Feminism, Univ. of Baltimore, Video Recordings from Applied Feminism and #MeToo (April 2019)

 The center co-sponsored with the UB Law Review the 11th Feminist Legal Theory Conference: Applied Feminism and #MeToo. The conference mixed activism and scholarship focusing on sexual harassment and gender-based violence law. Sixteen scholars and practitioners presented papers concerning a wide array of legal topics, from sexual assaults during police searches to the credibility of survivors in courtrooms.

The keynote speaker was Debra Katz, the lawyer who represented Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation hearings for now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In addition, hotel workers from a union presented about being sexually harassed and their campaign to end such treatment in hotels. Center members continued to work with UB law students and the Reproductive Justice Inside coalition to create model policies for reproductive health care and menstrual hygiene product access for Maryland correctional facilities.

July 16, 2019 in Conferences, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

What's Reasonable Now? Changing the Sexual Harassment Law after the MeToo Shift

Joan Williams, Jodi Short, Margot Brooks, Hilary Hardcastle, Tiffanie Ellis, Rayna Saron, "What's Reasonable Now? Sexual Harassment Law after the Norms Cascade" , Michigan State L. Rev. (2019) 

This Article asks whether Brooks v. San Mateo and four other appellate hostile-environment sexual harassment cases that have each been cited more than 500 times remain good precedent in the light of the norms cascade precipitated and represented by #MeToo. The analysis is designed to interrupt the “infinite regression of anachronism,” or the tendency of courts to rely on cases that reflect what was thought to be reasonable ten or twenty years ago, forgetting that what was reasonable then might be different from what a reasonable person or jury would likely think today. These anachronistic cases entrench outdated norms, foreclosing an assessment of what is reasonable now. To interrupt this infinite regression, this Article pays close attention to the facts of the cases-in-chief discussed below enabling the reader, and the courts, to reassess whether a reasonable person and a reasonable jury would be likely to find sexual harassment today.

July 11, 2019 in Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2019

US Senators Propose Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, the "Be Heard Act"

Dems Unveil Anti-Workplace Harassment Bill

A group of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a bill aimed at strengthening protections against harassment in the workplace, including sexual harassment.

 

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Democratic Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell(Fla.) introduced the "Be HEARD Act," which stands for Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace.

 

Several 2020 Democratic presidential contenders have also signed onto the legislation, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren(D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar(D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), among other senators.

 

The legislation aims to eliminate the tipped minimum wage, which largely leaves service worker pay up to customers, as well as end mandatory arbitration and pre-employment nondisclosure agreements and give workers more time to report harassment, among other provisions.

Democrats' Bill to Fight Sexual Harassment, Explained

On Tuesday, Democrats in Congress will introduce legislation aimed at helping those workers. Called the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination (BE HEARD) in the Workplace Act, it would close loopholes in federal discrimination law that leave many domestic workers without legal protections from sexual harassment. It would authorize grants for low-income workers to help them seek legal recourse if they are harassed. And, crucially for food service workers like Tucker, it would eliminate the lower minimum wage for tipped workers, which many say makes servers vulnerable to harassment by customers.

 

“Some women did and do still think that in order to make the extra tip, they have to ignore unwanted touches and unwanted comments,” Tucker said, “and we shouldn’t have to.”

 

The legislation could face an uphill battle in a Republican-controlled Senate. But it’s an example of a larger move toward systemic changes that would go beyond deposing a few big-name men, and help the many workers in America whose harassment never makes the news.

April 15, 2019 in Equal Employment, Legislation, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

An Empirical Analysis of Judicial Decision Making in Gender Discrimination Litigation

Catherine Ross Dunham & Christopher Leupold, Third Generation Discrimination: An Empirical Analysis of Judicial Decision Making in Gender Discrimination Litigation 

 In this progressive era of #MeToo and other movements which highlight the reality of women’s experiences in the workplace and other settings, the question arises as to why discrimination-based civil lawsuits are not more successful for female litigants. The courts have served as an important tool in reforming discriminatory workplace cultures by directly addressing and punishing overtly discriminatory workplace behavior such as blatant pregnancy and gender discrimination or grievous acts of sexual harassment. But the same courts have not been able to function as a safe haven for women who have their careers curtailed by implicit bias-based gender discrimination brought under Title VII. Gender discrimination lawsuits brought under a theory of bias-based discrimination, more specifically bias-based gender discrimination, have not offered reliable remedies for female litigants and have not impacted workplace culture in any meaningful way.

Bias-based gender discrimination theory involves structural discrimination – facially neutral workplace policies that are applied to favor the male dominant group and consequently written and managed by a male-dominated upper hierarchy. Successful litigants in bias-based gender discrimination cases must convince the judicial decision-maker not only that the law of Title VII applies, not only that the facts at issue constitute discrimination, but also that the workplace is mired in multi-layer structural discrimination flowing from an implicit bias against female employees. In order for the federal courts to function fully as interpreters of Title VII, policing our workplaces for equity and inclusion, the judicial gatekeepers must engage their own biases and preconceptions when evaluating the subject workplace.

This article follows an earlier piece which theorized there is an additional layer of implicit bias-based discrimination which inhibits the success of plaintiffs in Title VII lawsuits. That article argued that lawsuits seeking relief under facts of implicit bias-based workplace discrimination are further inhibited by bias in the courts, specifically the implicit biases of the federal judges who monitor the progress of the plaintiff’s case. This additional layer of implicit bias-based discrimination, Third Generation Discrimination, theorizes that a federal judge may be influenced by his or her own traits when evaluating gender discrimination cases which involve bias-based theories of gender discrimination.

This article is based on the authors’ study of Title VII cases in federal district courts over a ten-year period. The authors studied the judicial rulings on dispositive motions in Title VII cases and compared those outcomes to demographic information for the deciding judge, including race, gender, age and political affiliation. Part II of the article summarizes the theories of Second and Third Generation Discrimination, creating a framework for the research to follow. Part III of the article describes and explains the relevant research by outlining the parameters of the sample, explaining the statistical method followed, and discussing the research results. Part IV of the article analyzes the results of the authors’ research and theorizes how the authors’ findings can inform future discussions of gender discrimination.

 

April 9, 2019 in Courts, Equal Employment, Gender, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Understanding Equal Pay Day and the Related Laws

Today is Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day when women's earnings finally catch up to men's earnings from the previous year. It takes a few extra months because of the 23 percent gender wage gap that women typically face. However, this is not the day for every woman, as the wage gap varies by race and ethnicity.

Equal Pay Day was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity  (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages.

The Equal Pay Act bars wage differences between male and female employees for comparable work—except in cases of seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or “any other factor other than sex.” 

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act provides "that pay discrimination claims on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability 'accrue' whenever an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck, as well as when a discriminatory pay decision or practice is adopted, when a person becomes subject to the decision or practice, or when a person is otherwise affected by the decision or practice."

Most states also have equal pay acts.

US Dep't of Labor, Equal Pay:  

When the Equal Pay Act was signed into law by President Kennedy in 1963, women were earning an average of 59 cents on the dollar compared to men. While women hold nearly half of today's jobs, and their earnings account for a significant portion of the household income that sustains the financial well-being of their families, they are still experiencing a gap in pay compared to men's wages for similar work. Today, women earn about 81 cents on the dollar compared to men — a gap that results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages. For African-American women and Latinas, the pay gap is even greater.

Women's demand for equal pay goes back to the beginning of the women's rights movements.  Part of the Declaration of Sentiments of women's rights proclaimed at Seneca Falls in 1848 criticized the "scant remuneration" women were paid and demanded equality.  "Equal pay for equal work" was a mantra of the 1894 women's rights convention, continuing the longstanding demand for equal opportunity and equal pay.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (en banc) held in Rizo v. Yovino that the use of salary histories violates the equal pay act.

A dated, but still important article: Sara Zeigler, Litigating Equality: The Limits of the Equal Pay Act

This article assesses the effectiveness of legal remedies available under the Equal Pay Act (EPA) in closing the gender gap in pay. Although employers frequently attribute women’s lesser pay to lags in seniority and the life choices made by women, the evidence suggests that the narrow language of the EPA, its omission of the more subtle forms of sex discrimination, and the powerful disincentives for most women to pursue claims under the act have rendered it largely ineffective in curtailing sex discrimination in compensation. Through an examination of recent developments in the area of pay equality, the article demonstrates that the act, as enforced, has produced neither equality nor equity. Arguing that the reality of sex discrimination in pay shapes life choices (rather than the reverse), the article identifies the obstacles to closing the pay gap and strategies for more effective enforcement.

The proposed Paycheck Fairness Act seeks to address some of these limitations.

See Battle to Improve Equal Pay Act Enters its 22nd Year

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D–Conn.) has introduced the bill in every Congress since 1997. But that’s not to say the bill is without momentum; the House voted on the Paycheck Fairness Act for the first time in eight years last week—and passed it by its highest vote total ever.

When DeLauro first proposed the legislation, its stated purpose was to “revise and increase remedies and enforcement on behalf of victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex.” In essence, giving sharper teeth to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that was supposed to enshrine the concept of ‘equal pay for equal work’ in the law.

In the intervening two decades, the bill’s language hasn’t changed dramatically because the problem it targets—the reality of women’s unequal pay for equal work—remains. The gender pay gap was 26% in 1997; it now hovers in the 20% range, according to Census data.

April 2, 2019 in Business, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Legal Implications of the #MeToo Movement for Employment Law and Practices

Elizabeth C. Tippett, The Legal Implications of the #MeToo Movement, 103 Minnesota L. Rev. 229 (2018)

This Article examines the implications of the MeToo movement for employment law and employment practices. Employers are likely to face increased liability for harassment, as courts eventually update their standards for what qualifies as “severe or pervasive” harassment, and demand more of employers seeking to establish the Faragher/Ellerth defense. Employers also face greater risks of public scandals, as employees speak out and state legislatures limit the enforceability of non-disclosure agreements.

 

Consequently, employers can be expected to take a more punitive approach to documented instances of harassment. This will not only include termination, but also meaningful intermediate forms of discipline like a demotion or the removal of supervisory responsibilities. To limit their potential liability associated with these more punitive measures, employers are likely to modify standard language in executive employment agreements and privacy policies.

 

Lastly, the Article explores how standard harassment policies may have contributed to the problems exposed by the MeToo movement. The Article advocates for transparent harassment policies that disclose the contextual factors that influence disciplinary decisions. Employers should also draft broader discrimination policies that treat discriminatory and harassing comments by supervisors as a breach of trust. These changes would harmonize employer policies with their underlying litigation risks, and better convey employer expectations in the MeToo era.”

April 2, 2019 in Business, Courts, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 1, 2019

Private Actor Regulation of Sexual Norms

Melissa Murray, Consequential Sex: #MeToo, Masterpiece Cakeshop, and Private Sexual Regulation, 113 Northwestern L. Rev. 825 (2019)

The last sixty years have ushered in a tectonic shift in American sexual culture, from the sexual revolution—with its liberal attitudes toward sex and sexuality—to a growing recognition of rape culture and sexual harassment. The responses to these changes in sexual culture have varied. Conservatives, for their part, bemoan the liberalization of sexual mores and the rise of a culture where “anything goes.” And while progressives may cheer the liberalization of attitudes toward sex and sexuality and the growing recognition of sexual harassment and sexual assault, they lament the inadequacy of state efforts to combat sexual violence. Although these responses are substantively different, both evince a sense of the state’s failure. For conservatives, the changes wrought by the decriminalization of “deviant” sexual behavior, the shift to no-fault divorce regimes, and the recognition of constitutional protections for sex and sexuality suggest that the state has abdicated its historic role in imposing consequences on those who do not comply with traditional sexual mores. For progressives (and especially feminists), state efforts to properly regulate rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are, at best, anemic and, at worst, utterly ineffectual. As they see it, the state has failed to impose consequences for harassment, assault, and other offensive sexual conduct.

But it is not just that these two constituencies believe that the state has failed to properly regulate sex and sexuality; they have also responded in uncannily similar ways to these lapses. Specifically, in response to the state’s failure to regulate, private actors on both sides of the ideological spectrum have stepped into the regulatory void, challenging extant sexual norms and articulating new visions of appropriate sex and sexuality. These private regulatory efforts are evident in the rise and proliferation of conscience objections or exemptions, as exemplified in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, as well as in the emergence of the #MeToo movement. As this Article maintains, conscience objections allow private actors to reject the extant normative regime and instead articulate and enforce their own views of appropriate sex and sexuality through the denial of goods and services. The #MeToo movement has similarly sought to advance an alternative vision of appropriate sex and sexuality through private action. Using social media and the press, the #MeToo movement has identified recidivist harassers and workplaces where sexual harassment and sexual assault are rife, advocated for increased workplace harassment training, and, ultimately, called for the expulsion from the workplace of many high-profile men who, for years, engaged in objectionable conduct.

As this Article explains, the fact that private actors are stepping in to regulate in the state’s stead is not necessarily novel. Private actors have often played a regulatory role—particularly in contexts where norms are in flux or contested. Nevertheless, the private regulation seen in Masterpiece Cakeshop and #MeToo evinces a new turn in the regulation of sex and sexuality. In the absence of appropriate state regulation of sex and sexuality, private actors are coming to the fore to take on a more visible role in regulating sex and sexuality, and in doing so, have claimed and recast parts of the public sphere as private space suitable for the imposition of their own norms and values.

April 1, 2019 in Gender, LGBT, Theory, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Sexual Harassment Policies Adopted for Federal Judiciary

Sexual Harassment Policies Adopted for Federal Judiciary

The federal judiciary will change its response to workplace sexual misconduct charges effective immediately, the policy-making body for the federal courts announced today.

 

It is itself “misconduct not to report misconduct,” Chief Judge Merrick Garland, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, said in a press briefing following the bi-annual Judicial Conference meeting.

 

The changes clarify what behavior is prohibited, address informal methods to report misconduct, and provide for training mechanisms to educate employees on prohibited behaviors, said Garland, who heads the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference.

 

The changes stem from a June 2018 report Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. commissioned after sexual harassment allegations against then-Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski emerged. Kozinski has since retired.

 

Roberts’ year-end report detailed the steps the judiciary has already taken to address concerns in the #MeToo era, including the creation of a working group to address inappropriate workplace conduct for law clerks and court employees.

 

The working group made the recommendations implemented today and Garland said it will remain in place to “keeps tabs” on the judiciary’s progress and perhaps make suggestions in the future.

 

The codes of conduct don’t officially apply to Supreme Court justices, but they have previously said they consult and follow them.

 

Justice Elena Kagan said during a budget hearing March 7 that Roberts is currently studying whether to develop a code of conduct that applies specifically to Supreme Court justices. It’s something that’s being “very seriously” weighed, she said.

March 15, 2019 in Courts, Equal Employment, Judges, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Using AI to Overcome Implicit Gender Bias in Employment Decision-Making in the Tech Industry

Kimberly Houser, Can AI Solve the Diversity Problem in the Tech Industry? Mitigating Noise and Bias in Employment Decision-Making, 22 Stanford Tech. L. Rev. (forthcoming)

After the first diversity report was issued in 2014 revealing the dearth of women in the tech industry, companies rushed to hire consultants to provide unconscious bias training to their employees. Unfortunately, recent diversity reports show no significant improvement, and, in fact, women lost ground during some of the years. According to a 2016 Human Capital Institute survey, nearly 80% of leaders were still using gut feeling and personal opinion to make decisions that affected talent-management practices. By incorporating AI into employment decisions, we can mitigate unconscious bias and variability in human decision-making. While some scholars have warned that using artificial intelligence (AI) in decision-making creates discriminatory results, they downplay the reason for such occurrences – humans. The main concerns noted relate to the risk of reproducing bias in an algorithmic outcome (“garbage in, garbage out”) and the inability to detect bias due to the lack of understanding of the reason for the algorithmic outcome (“black box” problem). In this paper, I argue that responsible AI will abate the problems caused by unconscious biases and noise in human decision-making, and in doing so increase the hiring, promotion, and retention of women in the tech industry. The new solutions to the garbage in, garbage out and black box concerns will be explored. The question is not whether AI should be incorporated into decisions impacting employment, but rather why in 2019 are we still relying on faulty human-decision making?

March 15, 2019 in Business, Equal Employment, Science, Technology, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

MeToo and the Passive Stance of Labor Unions

 Marion Crain & Ken Matheny, Sexual Harassment and Solidarity, 87 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 56 (2019)

In the waning months of 2017, Americans endured an almost daily barrage of news reports describing sexual harassment by powerful men in entertainment, media, politics, and law. The media focus continued in 2018 as reactions proliferated, ranging from walkouts at Google by workers protesting the company’s handling of sexual-misconduct allegations against its male executives, to new initiatives by government agencies and private firms designed to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and to promptly remediate it when it occurs. Although sexual harassment had been headline news before—most notably, during the 1991 Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas debacle—never had so many victims joined hands and come forward demanding change. The media spotlight presented a tremendous opportunity to reframe sexual harassment from an individual, personal, and idiosyncratic instance of sexual desire to a common abuse of gender and economic power affecting millions of working women and men on a daily basis. Feminist legal scholars have known for years that expectations about appropriate gender roles create an environment where sexual harassment functions to protect male privilege. Nevertheless, the message that sexual harassment is a systemic feature of workplace gender inequality never reached the general public. Instead, the mainstream media’s systematic focus on sexual harassment as a twisted manifestation of male sexual desire grabbed headlines and implied that when the harasser is discharged, the story ends. But sexual harassment is about much more than men behaving badly. It is a structural problem linked to unequal pay and occupational segregation by sex.

 

One might think that labor unions would come forward as advocates for such a large segment of workers suffering economic disadvantage in the workplace. Yet despite the frequent use of the word “solidarity” in media reports about #MeToo, organized labor was conspicuously absent from the dialogue. Although union leaders made public statements denouncing sexual harassment and promised to redouble union efforts to eradicate it, most disclaimed legal responsibility for preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. Not all the blame for labor’s passive stance can be laid at labor’s doorstep, however. Unions are hamstrung by a legal structure that creates a fundamental role conflict where they represent a workforce that includes both potential harassers and victims, and National Labor Relations Act protection for worker concerted action for mutual aid has been cabined by courts and the National Labor Relations Board to the point that labor’s tradition of solidarity is barely recognizable.

March 14, 2019 in Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 11, 2019

"Defensive Glass Ceilings" as Unlawful Structural Barriers to Women's Equal Employment Opportunities

Anthony Michael Kreis, Defensive Glass Ceilings, 88 GW L. Rev. (forthcoming)

The #MeToo Movement is a grassroots effort mobilized by victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment to end sexual violence and sex-based discrimination against women. Though in its infancy, the movement has been a catalyst for significant legal and cultural reform. It has also claimed the careers of prominent men credibly accused of various sex-based misconduct. Nervous men have reacted in poor form in response, electing to avoid women in the workplace and hedge against allegations of wrongdoing or the appearance of impropriety. The American workplace stands to be more sex-segregated if this trend takes hold as a consequence.

At the same time, women are punished on the job for being too friendly at work or discriminated against because they are perceived as too attractive, mistreatment stemming from men’s fears that they could fall victim to their ow inability to exercise self-control, that women are “overly-sensitive,” or that women might make baseless accusations against them. Too often courts have declined to recognize these invidious employment practices as unlawful sex discrimination because judges fail to see these behaviors as part of a systemic gender policing. Judges, instead, chalk it up to a few bad apples misbehaving. This Article posits that defensive work environments must be viewed as products of structural bias, not individual malevolence.

The goal of this Article is to use the hue and cry of this paradigm-shifting moment as an opportunity to reconsider the law’s prior understanding of sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace. This Article argues that employment practices that create different rules of engagement for the primary benefit of men— erecting defensive glass ceilings— should be understood in the aggregate as a product of ambivalent sexism that creates a structural barrier to women’s employment opportunities in the workplace and are thus unlawful.

March 11, 2019 in Business, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Taking MeToo to the Next Level by Moving Beyond its Grassroots Origins

Robin Kar & Lesley Wexler, #MeToo: Counting the Collective Harm of Missing Women's Work, Justia

As a grassroots movement fostered by social media and amplified by traditional journalism, the #MeToo movement has helped countless victims find the courage to share experiences of sexual harassment that might otherwise have gone unreported. Public acts of storytelling like these can galvanize social reform. They can raise public consciousness about a problem, create bonds of mutual concern and commitment to solve it, and help people who lack experience with sexual harassment understand the qualitative nature of its harms. Grassroots developments are especially important to bring attention to problems that have traditionally been denied, normalized, or unduly diminished in importance.

 

Given its grassroots origins, the early #MeToo movement fits a wider pattern of women’s empowerment movements from around the world, and over the course of world history, which often begin with self-organized efforts of just this kind. Over time, however, successful movements typically evolve to further stages, which give them broader impact, by attracting “supporters and mentors who offered their struggle the credibility they needed, and offered material resources including funds, professional expertise, mentoring, and training for developing necessary skills for members of the movement.” To broaden its support base and deepen public understanding of the harms of sexual harassment, #MeToo may similarly need to form alliances that combine grassroots public storytelling with other modes of knowledge production.

 

Academic research institutions—and especially those concerned with broader community needs—may prove pivotal at this juncture. This is because academic institutions are especially well positioned to measure the scope of the collective harms generated by sexual harassment and identify the most promising causal interventions to reduce those harms. As an analogy, consider economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen’s pathbreaking work More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing. Before he produced this work, it was well known anecdotally that female children were not being born or surviving as often as male children in many parts of the world due to phenomena like sex-selection during pregnancy, femicide, and inadequate care for female children. Individual stories of these problems abounded—and they were heartbreaking. But it took thoughtful econometric modeling and a creative search for reliable indices of the problem for Sen to measure it and establish that there were literally more than 100 million fewer women in the world than there should have been at the time.

 

Once the jaw-dropping scope of the problem was made clear, it garnered the attention of many more people with a broader range of skill sets.

March 5, 2019 in Gender, Theory, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 22, 2019

Book Review: Lifetime Disadvantage, Discrimination and the Gendered Workplace

Nicole Porter, An Ambitious Approach: A Review of Lifetime Disadvantage, Discrimination and the Gendered Workforce, 22 Employee Rgts & Employment Policy J. (2018)  

In this review of Susan Bisom-Rapp’s and Malcom Sargeant’s book, Lifetime Disadvantage, Discrimination and the Gendered Workforce, I both summarize and applaud the authors’ ambitious approach to exploring the disadvantages women experience in the workforce throughout their careers and the cumulative effects of those disadvantages over their lifetimes. The authors develop a “model of lifetime disadvantage,” and this model is presented in an exhaustively researched and thoroughly enjoyable read. In addition to exploring the causes and effects of the discrimination and disadvantages women face, the authors also explore possible solutions, both here in the United States as well as in the United Kingdom. The authors take a broad and ambitious approach to solving the lifetime disadvantage suffered by women. Because I also like to think broadly when reimagining what is possible in the workplace and in life, I use this review to preview my own book in progress, which is an unabashedly ambitious approach to ameliorating the workplace disadvantages suffered by women and individuals with disabilities.

February 22, 2019 in Books, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Feminist Case Against Individualized Adjudication of MeToo Claims

Lisset Pino, Wal-Mart v. Dukes: The Feminist Case Against Individualized Adjudication, 30 Yale Journal of Law & Feminism (2018)

Discussions of due process often focus on individualizing trials in order to provide persons an opportunity to be heard. In keeping with this traditional understanding, Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion denying class certification in Wal-Mart v. Dukes describes class actions as “an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only.” This Comment grapples with the normative implications of the American legal focus on individualized (rather than collective) adjudication. It argues that the “usual rule” of individualized adjudication makes it much more difficult for the American legal system to adequately evaluate claims of widespread discrimination. When such claims arise from the behavior of numerous bad actors operating within an institutional context, the adjudicative focus on individuality tends to obscure how oppressive institutional dynamics have made the discrimination possible. These dynamics often only become evident when individual experiences are considered in the aggregate, in two key ways. First, as the #MeToo movement shows, aggregation of claims results in believability: one woman accusing a powerful man of sexual misconduct can be easily dismissed, but hundreds of accusers are more difficult to ignore. Second, aggregating claims can often demonstrate the institutional dimension of discrimination, proving that discriminatory behavior is not due to a single bad actor, but rather has been enabled by institutional structures that must be changed to prevent the behavior from recurring.

February 21, 2019 in Courts, SCOTUS, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Using Algorithms to Advance Equality Goals in the Workplace

Stephanie Bornstein, Antidiscriminatory Algorithms, 70 Alabama L. Rev. 519 (2018)  

Can algorithms be used to advance equality goals in the workplace? A handful of legal scholars have raised concerns that the use of big data at work may lead to protected class discrimination that could fall outside the reach of current antidiscrimination law. Existing scholarship suggests that, because algorithms are “facially neutral,” they pose no problem of unequal treatment. As a result, algorithmic discrimination cannot be challenged using a disparate treatment theory of liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Instead, it presents a problem of unequal outcomes, subject to challenge using Title VII’s disparate impact framework only. Yet under current doctrine, scholars suggest, any disparate impact that results from an employer’s use of algorithmic decision-making could be excused as a justifiable business practice. Given this Catch-22, scholars propose either regulating the algorithms or reinterpreting the law.

This Article seeks to challenge current thinking on algorithmic discrimination. Both the “improve the algorithms” and the “improve the law” approaches focus solely on a clash between the anticlassification (formal equality) and antisubordination (substantive equality) goals of Title VII. But Title VII also serves an important antistereotyping goal: the principle that people should be treated not just equally across protected class groups but also individually, free from stereotypes associated with even one’s own group. This Article is the first to propose that some algorithmic discrimination may be challenged as disparate treatment using Title VII’s stereotype theory of liability. An antistereotyping approach offers guidance for improving hiring algorithms and the uses to which they are put, to ensure that algorithms are applied to counteract rather than reproduce bias in the workplace. Moreover, framing algorithmic discrimination as a problem of disparate treatment is essential for similar challenges outside of the employment context—for example, challenges to governmental use of algorithms in the criminal justice context raised under the Equal Protection Clause, which does not recognize disparate impact claims.

The current focus on ensuring that algorithms do not lead to new discrimination at work obscures that the technology was intended to do more: to improve upon human decision-making by suppressing biases to make the most efficient and least discriminatory decisions. Applying the existing doctrine of Title VII more robustly and incorporating a focus on its antistereotyping goal may help deliver on the promise of moving beyond mere nondiscrimination and toward actively antidiscriminatory algorithms.

February 19, 2019 in Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Ending Sexual Harassment by Reforming the Law of Retaliation

Nicole Porter, Ending Harassment By Starting with Retaliation, 71 Stanford L. Rev. Online (2018)

The #MeToo movement has shined a much-needed spotlight on harassment in the workplace. But with that increased attention, the narrative that has developed does not necessarily reflect reality. The #MeToo narrative tells a story of women reporting harassment at record levels; employers taking the complaints seriously; and victims of the harassment having the harassment remedied without any negative consequences. In reality, reporting rates of harassment are very low in large part because victims of harassment fear retaliation if they report it. Thus, this paper argues that we cannot hope to end harassment without starting by addressing the reality of retaliation. In addition to discussing the fear of retaliation, and how difficult it is to bring a valid retaliation claim, I also explore possible reforms — to the law of retaliation, and changes employers might implement to decrease retaliation and increase the reporting of harassment so that it can be remedied.

February 14, 2019 in Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Business Groups Concerned about New Sexual Harassment Bill Approved by MN House Committee

Sexual Harassment Bill Unanimously Approved by MN House Committee

A Minnesota House committee voted unanimously to move ahead with a bill strengthening sexual harassment laws in the work place, but some business groups are worried the law may go too far.

 

“The managers routinely made me choose between being able to pay for rent and food, and being sexually harassed and stalked,” Ami said.

 

Minnesota lawmakers heard sexual harassment horror stories from a server at a Golden Valley Perkins restaurant, who asked WCCO not to use her full name. She said she endured a year of touching and stalking from customers, and her managers refused to stop it.

 

She sued the company but lost the case, which didn’t fit Minnesota’s high standard for “severe and pervasive” sexual harassment. Now one lawmaker is trying to change that.

 

“This bill is necessary to insure that workers are safe in their workplaces,” Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL) said. “As the #MeToo movement has highlighted, we need to change workplace behavior.”

 

The House is debating a sexual harassment bill giving more credibility to employees who report an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment. Business groups say no one supports harassment, but changing the reporting standard could cause a blizzard of lawsuits.

 

“We are not here to say the sky is falling. We are here to say we have tremendous concerns about the language that is being proposed, because it will increase the amount of litigation. There is just no question about that,” Melissa Raphan, from the Minnesota Employment law Council, said.

February 11, 2019 in Business, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Insurers Begin to Limit Coverage for #MeToo Liability

This industry action on insurance was recommended by Prof. Marci Hamilton  in one of the earliest legal analyses of the #MeToo movement and how to redress the problem.  See Blog, Systemic Solutions for Sexual Harassment Legislation and Insurance Industry Change (Nov. 2017)

Insurers Blacklisting Industries Over #MeToo Liability

Sixteen months into #MeToo, companies seeking sexual harassment insurance are facing intense scrutiny from insurers — a trend that could put pressure on firms to institute organizational change.

 

A recent report, authored by an insurance industry consultant, reveals new measures that insurers are taking to mitigate the risks of writing harassment policies, including decisions to exclude entire industries from their portfolios.

 

The increased vigilance comes as harassment complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are on the rise, perhaps sparked by the wave of #MeToo revelations. The EEOC received 7,609 sexual harassment charges in its 2018 fiscal year, up nearly 14 percent from 2017. These numbers don’t include an unknown number of complaints settled by victims who never contacted the federal regulator.

 

Ten of the 32 insurance companies polled by Richard S. Betterley, publisher of the Betterley Report, said they were not underwriting the legal industry. Financial firms, including brokers, investment banks, and venture capital operations landed on the prohibited lists of eight insurers. Seven insurers said they’d blacklisted companies in the entertainment industry. Betterley shared a copy of his report, completed in December, exclusively with The Intercept and Type Investigations.

 

Betterley reached out to the biggest companies offering what is called “employment practices liability insurance,” or EPLI, which covers sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and other employee claims. Among the companies responding to Betterley’s survey were AIG, Chubb, The Hartford, and Travelers.

 

EPLI insurers christen their products with names like “ForceField” and “Employment Edge” and sometimes market their wares with #MeToo paranoia in mind. A blogger at a Manhattan insurance brokerage asks readers, “Is your industry a snake pit for sexual harassment claims?” At Nationwide, a webpage devoted to EPLI insurance warns that “a business is more likely to have an employment claim than experience a fire.” To attract clients for their expensive policies, which can demand seven-figure premiums for large firms, some insurers offer extras, such as free consultations with an outside law firm and sample employee handbooks.

 

Betterley said in an interview that, with dozens of insurers offering EPLI policies, being blocked by some major providers doesn’t mean that companies in frowned-upon industries can’t get insurance at all. But it could now mean agreeing to higher premiums and deductibles and demonstrating that their problems “are under control and have been addressed,” he said. 

 

For example, a problem company might have to show that it had set up a confidential outside service for employees to report complaints anonymously, Betterley said. Or that the company had circulated anti-harassment policies and set up sexual harassment compliance programs. A large employer with a history of harassment complaints might see a deductible soar from $1 million to $5 million, he said.

 

Companies with high-profile executives, big-name stars, or iffy corporate cultures are getting increased scrutiny, several insurers who participated in the survey told Betterley. One insurer said it had become more cautious about underwriting “any account with celebrity involvement.” Another said it was taking a more in-depth look at companies’ track records on pay equity.

 

When Betterley began tracking the insurance market for sexual harassment and other employee claims in 1991, he said, there were only five companies in the business. “But EPLI really got big after Anita Hill testified in the Clarence Thomas hearings, when insurance companies saw a business opportunity,” said Paula Brantner, senior adviser to Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit organization that advocates for workers’ rights.

February 5, 2019 in Business, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Dept of Labor Finds Oracle Systemically Underpaid Women Workers

Oracle Owes $400M to Women, Black, Asian Workers, Dept of Labor Says

Oracle Corp. shorted women and minority workers $400 million in wages by paying them less than other employees, steering them into jobs at lower-level positions, and imposing an “extreme preference” for immigrant visa holders, the Labor Department said in a new legal filing.

 

“Oracle has continued to systemically discriminate against employees and applicants based on gender and race,” Labor Department attorney Laura Bremer told an administrative law judge.

 

The allegations stem from a random 2014 audit by the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. The OFCCP, which enforces equal pay and other nondiscrimination requirements for federal contractors, first sued Oracle in January 2017.

 

Oracle declined Bloomberg Law’s request for comment. The company does about $100 million a year in federal contracting, according to the department.

 

Pay records obtained by the Labor Department show that Oracle paid women, black, and Asian employees less than others for similar jobs in information technology, product development, and support. The DOL said that appears to be in part because the company relied on workers’ prior pay histories to determine starting salaries. The department also said Oracle often starts women and black workers at “low-level jobs and low starting pay.”

 

The DOL further alleges that Oracle uses a recent college graduate hiring program to bring in droves of Asian visa holders, whom the company then pays less than their citizen counterparts.

 

Oracle “impermissibly denies equal employment opportunity to non-Asian applicants for employment, strongly preferring a workforce that it can later underpay,” Bremer said in the legal filing. “Once employed, women, blacks, and Asians are systematically underpaid relative to their peers.

January 24, 2019 in Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)