Sunday, April 17, 2016
While supporting transgender advocates working to repeal North Carolina laws discriminating against sexually diverse individuals, I reflect on the public support that corporations have experienced since refusing to do business in the offending (and offensive) state. Similar support was given by major corporations in Georgia. This leads to a chronic and unanswered question: why do the same entities deny support to women and racial minorities in their discrimination issues?
Might it be that discrimination against women and racial minorities is so pervasive that to object might disqualify the businesses from operating in all U.S. jurisdictions? I don't think that the answer is that simple. Most of the corporations supporting the transgender community have, and continue to, discriminate against women and racial minorities.
In 2013, Bank of America agreed to pay $39 million dollars to women who experienced discrimination in its related corporation, Merrill Lynch. Immediately before that settlement, the Bank paid $160 million to black brokers. In 2012, 16 racially diverse workers brought a discrimination claim against Coca Cola claiming aggressive and untempered discrimination in two of the company's New York firms. These claims came well after Coke agreed to settle a race discrimination suit in 2000 for $192.5 million dollars. Similar lawsuits are settled every year, often against major corporations.
An easy answer might be that corporations that have paid millions to settle discrimination suits are trying to stay ahead of similar claims based on sexual identity. A more cynical explanation could be that the transgender corporate workforce is perceived as being incredibly small and claims more easily managed. If corporations were to acknowledge widespread wage inequities, settlements would be incredibly large. And with equality would come at least a modest power shift.
Corporate support of CERD and CEDAW would be a good start in ending workplace discrimination. When corporations decide to stop tolerating hateful and discriminatory language, and decide to pay equal wages and provide respectful working environments, corporations might discover that having a satisfied workforce is indeed good for profits.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Building upon Cindy Soohoo's post from yesterday, The George Washington University School of Law Associate Professorial Lecturer in Law Robin Runge reflects upon U.S. policy toward women and workplace equity.
Prof. Runge writes:
The concept of using employment laws to promote specific societal behaviors and values is one that has been considerably explored in U.S. legal scholarship. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, prohibiting discrimination in employment based on race, ethnicity, color, religion, and sex is frequently described as a law intended to more broadly increase economic opportunity and promote equality for populations that had historically experienced extensive societal discrimination. The passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993 has been described as a reflection of U.S. society valuing a specific set of family and caregiving responsibilities over others by mandating employers provide unpaid, job guaranteed leave to employees for limited medical or caregiving reasons. I, among others, have criticized the FMLA for promoting behaviors that reflect the needs and experience of middle and upper class “ideal families,” to the exclusion of low income women who cannot afford to take unpaid leave and often don’t qualify for the job guarantee leave provided by the FMLA because they need to take leave for family-related reasons that don’t meet the requirements. See Robin R. Runge, Redefining Leave From Work, 19 Geo. J. on Poverty L. & Pol’y 445 (2012). Finally, recent amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act are intended to promote breastfeeding among low income working women and help them maintain employment by requiring employers to provide break time and a private location to express milk at work. However, as Young v. UPS, currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrates, pregnant women are still fighting for basic rights in the workplace.
Unlike Prof. Soohoo’s description of countries in East Asia, the U.S. is not facing a significant drop in birth rates or considerable concerns about a shrinking labor pool. I do not think, however, this is because our workplaces are models of equality for women. Quite the opposite. Women make up almost half the workforce, and a high percentage of mothers are working. Moreover, 40% of American mothers are the primary breadwinners for their families. So, women seem to be able to make it work in spite of a lack of pay equity, paid family leave, workplace flexibility, and rampant violence against women in some workplaces, even though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978.
The employment and labor laws of the U.S. have created workplace structures and cultures that make women vulnerable to exploitation and discourage mothers from working. Just this week a headline in an article asked “When we will stop punishing women for having babies at the peak of their careers? Others have attributed a recent decrease in women in the workforce to U.S. employment policies that make it nearly impossible to have a child and maintain employment.
The Administration and several members of Congress have recently and consistently argued that passage of legislation mandating paid family leave and raising the minimum wage (women are the majority of minimum wage-earners) would promote women’s equality and economic opportunity with the Women’s Economic Agenda: When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families. However, this effort does not seem to be effective in getting the legislation passed.
Maybe if the U.S. did face a crisis in our birth rate, or a need to increase women’s participation in the workforce, that would result in legislation that makes our workplaces more equitable for women. Or maybe, whether there is a connection between increasing economic equality for women and government policy depends on where a woman lives, China or the U.S.