Follow by Email

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dental Assistant Fired For Being 'Irresistible' Is 'Devastated'

by Alyssa Newcomb

After working as a dental assistant for ten years, Melissa Nelson was fired for being too "irresistible" and a "threat" to her employer's marriage.

"I think it is completely wrong," Nelson said. "I think it is sending a message that men can do whatever they want in the work force."

On Friday, the all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that James Knight, Nelson's boss, was within his legal rights when he fired her, affirming the decision of a lower court.

"We do think the Iowa Supreme Court got it completely right," said Stuart Cochrane, an attorney for James Knight. "Our position has always been Mrs. Nelson was never terminated because of her gender, she was terminated because of concerns her behavior was not appropriate in the workplace. She's an attractive lady. Dr. Knight found her behavior and dress to be inappropriate."

For Nelson, a 32-year-old married mother of two, the news of her firing and the rationale behind it came as a shock.

"I was very surprised after working so many years side by side I didn't have any idea that that would have crossed his mind," she said.

The two never had a sexual relationship or sought one, according to court documents, however in the final year and a half of Nelson's employment, Knight began to make comments about her clothing being too tight or distracting.

"Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing," the justices wrote.

Six months before Nelson was fired, she and her boss began exchanging text messages about work and personal matters, such as updates about each of their children's activities, the justices wrote.

The messages were mostly mundane, but Nelson recalled one text she received from her boss asking "how often she experienced an orgasm."

Nelson did not respond to the text and never indicated that she was uncomfortable with Knight's question, according to court documents.

Soon after, Knight's wife, Jeanne, who also works at the practice, found out about the text messaging and ordered her husband to fire Nelson.

The couple consulted with a senior pastor at their church and he agreed that Nelson should be terminated in order to protect their marriage, Cochrane said.

On Jan. 4, 2010, Nelson was summoned to a meeting with Knight while a pastor was present. Knight then read from a prepared statement telling Nelson she was fired.

"Dr. Knight felt like for the best interest of his marriage and the best interest of hers to end their employment relationship," Cochrane said.

Knight acknowledged in court documents that Nelson was good at her job and she, in turn, said she was generally treated with respect.

"I'm devastated. I really am," Nelson said.

When Nelson's husband tried to reason with Knight, the dentist told him he "feared he would have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her."

Paige Fiedler, Nelson's attorney, said in a statement to ABC News affiliate KCRG that she was "appalled" by the ruling.

"We are appalled by the Court's ruling and its failure to understand the nature of gender bias.," she wrote.

"Although people act for a variety of reasons, it is very common for women to be targeted for discrimination because of their sexual attractiveness or supposed lack of sexual attractiveness. That is discrimination based on sex," Fiedler wrote. "Nearly every woman in Iowa understands this because we have experienced it for ourselves."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

People Can Be So Cruel - Worst Case of Employment Discrimination Ever


By KEVIN KOENINGER, Dec. 13, 2012

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CNN) - State highway workers duct-taped a developmentally disabled co-worker to a pole, sodomized him with a Mountain Dew bottle and posted pictures of it on Facebook, the man claims in court. Jason Moody sued the Alabama Department. of Transportation and 13 co-workers and supervisors at the DOT Oneonta facility, in Federal Court.

Moody, who is 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 125 lbs., says he was on a smoke break -workers when defendant Chad Standridge lunged at him. "Moody fled the group and attempted to dodge away but ran into [defendant] Bobby Thomas, who forcibly restrained the plaintiff," the complaint states.

"The men then dragged Moody to the hydraulic lift pole located in the Oneonta ALDOT garage, retrieved duct tape from an ALDOT vehicle, and bound him to the pole with the duct tape.

"Defendants placed Moody facing the pole and then duct taped his wrists together around the pole. They taped his head so that he could not move it, and taped around his torso to keep him still. Although this is not the first time that these men have restrained the plaintiff in this fashion, their actions on this day did not stop with false imprisonment."

(To read the actual court filing ie suit click here, http://www.bateshetzel.com/blog.html ) Moody says the men pulled down his pants, and then "Thomas, approaching plaintiff from behind said, 'You're gonna feel this' at which point he struck plaintiff on the buttocks approximately four times with a metal 'lift bar.'

"After being beaten with the 'lift bar,' Moody was forcibly sodomized with a Mountain Dew bottle. Since he was unable to see behind him plaintiff is unsure who wielded the bottle, although defendants showed him the bottle prior to assaulting him."

Moody claims that several members of the group took pictures of him during the ordeal, then called defendant Donald Warren, a supervisor, who "left his office and joined the group inside the garage. Instead of taking any actions to assist Moody, Warren instead approached the plaintiff and placed a baby bottle in his mouth."

Moody says that had been used to feed puppies the crew had found on the side of the road. He says, "the actual source of the milk in the bottle is unknown, but it was suggested by Warren that it had been 'milked' from the injured dog, presumably in an effort to further humiliate and traumatize the plaintiff.

"Plaintiff remained duct taped to the hydraulic pole for between half and hour to an hour. During that period of time, Jones, another supervisor, witnessed the ongoing assault and did nothing to help plaintiff, other than instruct the others to cut him down. Jones did this twice before the group actually released the plaintiff."

Moody says he did not report the incident immediately because of threats from his co-workers. But after pictures were posted on Facebook, he says, he lodged a complaint with ALDOT. He says he "received little or no sympathy from ALDOT employees after his ordeal, even being told ... that '[he] deserved everything [he] got.'

"After the assault various co-workers would taunt plaintiff about it at every opportunity. Plaintiff's derogatory nickname amongst his co-workers is 'killer,' and whenever someone purchased a Mountain Dew beverage one of the defendants would say 'Watch out for Mountain Dew, killer,' or words to that effect."

Moody claims that he was retaliated against after ALDOT investigated, denied overtime and then suspended in August.  Moody says he "was afraid to tell his former wife (to whom he was engaged at the time of the assault) the details of what he had endured, but eventually did so after seeking therapy. Unfortunately, the emotional distress plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer caused significant problems in his marriage, which was terminated by divorce in July 2012."

 Moody seeks compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations, disability discrimination, false imprisonment, retaliation, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and supervision and invasion of privacy.

He is represented by Mary-Ellen Bates of Bates Hetzel in Birmingham.  To read the actual court filing ie suit click here, http://www.bateshetzel.com/blog.html).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cabaret Sues Hotel Alleging Racism

Rrazz Room says lease was denied because of black people

The Rrazz Room says it -- and African Americans -- are discriminated against by the Hotel Nikko.

The cabaret's lease with the hotel is not being renewed, and the Rrazz Room's owners say it's because the cabaret attracts too many black people, according to a lawsuit on file at San Francisco Superior Court.

The 190-seat club has hosted jazz, R&B and other performers since 2008, and is seeking at least $1 million, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The hotel denied denying the club a lease extension because of the "demographic" it was attracting, instead claiming that the decision not to renew the lease was based on "economics," the newspaper reported.

The club's last night is New Year's Eve, the newspaper reported.
 
Copyright NBC Owned Television Stations

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

New York High School Student Awarded $1 Million In Racial Harrassment Suit


 
By Victor Trammell
A New York federal court panel upheld a $1 million dollar judgement against the Pine Plains Central School District in Duchess County on Monday. The grounds of the original lawsuit was racial harrassment.

The plaintiff in the suit was Anthony Zeno, a former student at Stissing Mountain High School in Pine Plains, New York. The award was reduced from the $1.25 million a jury originally awarded during a 2010 trial. Zeno, now 23, works as a barber and endured severe racial harrassment, according to the opinion of the appeals court.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

African American Farmers File Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination

 

 
Posted: Nov 19, 2012
Several African American farmers gathered at Kelly Ingram Park for a news conference about the lawsuit. Source: WBRC video
Several African American farmers gathered at Kelly Ingram Park for a news conference about the lawsuit. Source: WBRC video
A farmer holds a sign at the news conference in Kelly Ingram Park. Source: WBRC video
A farmer holds a sign at the news conference in Kelly Ingram Park. Source: WBRC video
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC)
 
Some African American farmers in Alabama say they are still facing discrimination with the federal government.
 
About a half dozen farmers held a news conference at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham. Black farmers have filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Agriculture Department, alleging the federal agency failed to provide loans going to white farmers.
 
A $1.2 billion settlement has been offered in this case. But, the farmers in Birmingham say they are not a part of the class action case and their independent lawsuit's have yet to be addressed. The lawsuits have been filed dating back to the 1990's.
 
"The black farmer lawsuit started in 1999. They have tried on several occassions to pay us but they have failed to pay all of us," Robert Binion, a farmer from Clanton said.
 
"Black folk, y'all need to wake up. Wake up black folk. This is what is going on in the United States. They don't want us here. But it's OK, we're here," Mike Stovall, a farmer from Town Creek said.
 
The black farmers claim the federal government is trying to force them to sell their property. The group asked President Obama to get involved and to have his Agriculture Deptartment settle their lawsuits.
 
Copyright 2012 WBRC. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The EEOC Turns Up The Heat In Its Race Harassment Lawsuit


160px-District-Utah.gifAs we blogged about here, the EEOC stated in its Draft Strategic Enforcement Plan that it is increasingly focused on preventing and, when necessary, litigating workplace harassment allegations. This week the EEOC’s caution came to fruition when the Commission filed a motion for partial summary judgment on allegations of racial harassment in EEOC v. Holmes & Holmes Industrial, Inc., No. 10-CV-955 (DAK) (D. Utah Oct. 10, 2012).

The EEOC’s motion is the Commissions first pulse of the fiscal year relating to its regenerated focus on harassment litigation. In EEOC v. Holmes & Holmes, the Commission alleges that the Defendant subjected its African-American employees to a hostile work environment. In a lengthy opinion addressing the EEOC’s motion, Judge Dale A. Kimball devoted over 11 pages to the facts surrounding the EEOC’s allegations that the Plaintiffs endured near-constant racial harassment. Despite a manager’s repeated use of the word “nigger” in reference to African-American employees, the Defendant argued that the EEOC’s motion for summary judgment should be denied because the EEOC did not prove the essential elements to prevail on a hostile work environment claim. Judge Kimball agreed with the Defendant and denied the EEOC’s motion. Judge Kimball’s order, however, did not resolve the entire case — if the parties do not settle the lawsuit, the Defendant will face trial on the EEOC’s race-based allegations.

Background Facts

The EEOC alleged that a group of African-American employees – James Buie, Antonio Bratcher, and Joby Bratcher – were subjected to racial harassment nearly every work-day for over two years. Id. at 3. Specifically, the EEOC alleged that the Bratchers and Buies’ manager repeatedly made racial “jokes” and used racial epithets. Id. at 7. Their manager addressed the Bratchers and Buie with the word “nigger” almost daily. Id. at 14. Evidence also established that in addition to verbal harassment, the portable toilets at the Defendant’s company were covered in racist graffiti. Id. at 7. One supervisory staff member described the graffiti as referring to “anyone of any race” and including “everything you can imagine and probably things you can’t imagine.” Id.

In 2006, Antonio Bratcher handed his supervisor a written complaint about the continual racial harassment. Id. at 5. The Defendant did not investigate Bratcher’s report or take any disciplinary action. Id. One year later, Joby Bratcher complained to his boss, Ron Holmes, about the job assignments that he received and the way his manager treated him. Id. at 8. Holmes allegedly told the manager to stop the conduct and to apologize to Bratcher. Id. at 24. The alleged hostile work environment continued, and the Bratchers also complained to their co-workers about the racial harassment on numerous occasions. Id. at 8-9. In 2008, the Bratchers again reported the harassment to Ron and Mike Holmes. Id. at 9. That same day, the Defendant terminated the Bratchers. Id. On behalf of the Bratchers and Buie, and similarly aggrieved employees, the EEOC filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. The EEOC’s Complaint asserted that the Defendant’s created and condoned a racially hostile work environment and then fired its employees in retaliation for complaining about the racial harassment. Subsequently, the EEOC moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether the Defendant subjected Buie and the Bratchers to a hostile work environment. Id. at 12.
 
The Court’s Ruling

To prevail on a hostile work environment claim, the EEOC must prove that the work environment was both objectively and subjectively hostile. The Court considered the two prongs in turn. As to the objective element, the Court held that no reasonable jury could conclude that the Bratchers’ and Buie’s work environment “was not permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that [was] sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [their] employment and create an abusive working environment.” Id. at 17 (internal citations omitted). Thus, the EEOC passed the hurdle of establishing that the discrimination was objectively hostile. The EEOC’s motion therefore hinged on its ability to prove that the Bratchers and Buie subjectively perceived their work environment as hostile or abusive. Id. at 18. To that end, the Defendant argued that the Bratchers and Buie were not bothered by their manager’s racist conduct because they were “all friends[.]” Id. at 21.

The Court noted that a few witnesses testified that they did not believe that the Bratchers and Buie were offended by the racist conduct. Despite the “significant evidence that the Bratchers and Buie were offended by [their manager’s] conduct,” the Court stated that “there [was] also some limited evidence that they were not.” Id. at 21-22. As all it takes to defeat a motion for summary judgment is a material question of fact, and because a question remained as to whether the Bratchers and Buie were offended by their manager’s conduct, the Court denied the EEOC’s motion for summary judgment.

The Defendant’s Liability

In attempt to reach the Defendant’s “deep pockets,” the EEOC set forth two avenues to hold the Defendant liable for the alleged racially hostile work environment. First, the EEOC argued that the Defendant is liable for “negligence in tolerating and/or condoning a racially hostile environment because the Bratchers and Buie complained at least eleven different times and no appropriate action was ever taken.” Id. at 22. To hold the Defendant liable under a negligence theory, the EEOC needed to prove that the Defendant knew or should have known about its employees’ conduct and failed to respond in an appropriate manner. Id. The Court reasoned that the numerous times the employees complained about the harassment was clearly enough evidence to “demonstrate actual or constructive notice of the racially hostile environment.” Id. The Court concluded that whether the Defendants responded in a reasonable manner, however, remained a question of fact for the jury to determine.

Thus, the Defendant escaped liability – for now – under the EEOC’s negligence theory.
The EEOC covered all of its bases and also argued that it could hold the Defendant responsible for the alleged hostile work environment under a vicarious liability theory. Under vicarious liability, an employer may be held liable for an actionable hostile environment created by a supervisor with immediate authority over the employee. The Court considered whether the Defendant could establish the two elements necessary to prevail in asserting an affirmative defense – that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any racially harassing behavior, and that the employees unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities. Id.

The Court held that the Defendant did not exercise reasonable care to prevent harassment because its policy on harassment merely stated that someone who feels that they are harassed should “immediately notify his/her supervisor.” Id. at 26-27. The Court reasoned that the defect in the Defendant’s policy was that it did not provide an avenue for employees to make a complaint about a harassing supervisor. Furthermore, because the Bratchers and Buie complained about the race harassment on numerous occasions, the Defendant could not establish that they failed to take advantage of corrective opportunities. Therefore, the Court held that the EEOC could hold the Defendant vicariously liable for the alleged hostile work environment.

Implications For Employers

Although the Defendant in EEOC v. Holmes & Holmes escaped the EEOC’s motion for partial summary judgment, the EEOC emerged from the Court’s ruling with leverage over the Defendant because if a jury finds that there was a hostile work environment, the EEOC can hold the Defendant liable. Thus, even though majority of the ruling in this case focused on the EEOC’s hostile work environment allegations, the existence of such claims would have had little impact on the Defendant if the EEOC could not establish that the Defendant was negligent or vicariously liable for its employee’s actions.

This case should be a reminder to employers that when employees complain about workplace harassment, the employer is well-served if it takes prompt action. Implementing a policy that requires an investigation of reported workplace harassment or discrimination can aid in avoiding employer liability, and also work toward the goal of discrimination-free workplaces. Additionally, the Defendant may have avoided vicarious liability for its employees actions if it put in place a clear, comprehensive policy that listed numerous people to which its employees could report alleged harassment.
 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Where Did All Our Pensions Go?

October 10th, 2012 | Jackie Tortora


A total of 84,350 pension plans have vanished since 1985. This figure shocked Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Donald L. Barlett and James W. Steele, who just released their latest book, “The Betrayal of the American Dream.” Their chapter on retirement chronicles the heist of the American dream’s secure retirement by the financial elite and is a very important section of the book, says Steele, who spoke with the AFL-CIO about the retirement crisis. Steele says there is another number we should pay attention to: $17,686. That’s the median value of 401(k) accounts in 2011. For most working people, the amount in their 401(k) account would pay them less than $80 a month for life.

“What’s happening with retirement is almost parallel to what you see happening in other parts of the economy,” says Steele.
The elite has its agenda to eliminate pensions with the shift to 401(k)s, which cost companies less. Now, there’s a revenue stream for Wall Street and an obligation shift to people with little or no experience understanding how to deal with their own retirement issues….This is typical of all the other things the economy elite has been doing for decades with deregulation, unrestricted free trade and tax cuts—these things are all related.
“In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, the amount of workers with access to pensions was significantly rising,” says Steele. “We fully underestimated the speed in which the downturn would occu, and how Congress went along and encouraged it.”

Barlett and Steele write that the shift from defined-benefit pension plans to 401(k)s began in the 1980s. Companies realized 401(k)s would substantially reduce corporate costs. Workers were told that pensions no longer made sense and were outdated since people moved around from job to job. The 401(k) was marketed as more “portable.”

Steele says 401(k)s were engineered by corporations as another way for the wealthy executives to set aside money. They were never intended to be a principal retirement plan, only a supplement.
“Once corporate America got on to this, the idea took root,” says Steele. “The entire obligation shifted to the employees.”

Congress ignored the concerns raised by trade unions and other pension rights organizations. And the consequences are dire for middle- and lower-income workers.

“This is so typical of what has been happening over the last two to three decades,” says Steele. “This is the slow, steady erosion of economic security Americans had (or thought they had)….Now economic pundits, corporate folks and Wall Street people are saying people just have to work longer, in part because retirement plans now in place will not provide much security to people as they get older.”

Barlett and Steele feature stories of average people who did everything right (saved, worked hard) but are still living on the edge of poverty because of policies that enhance the rich at the expense of everyone else.
Over and over again, people thought they had something good. They were working hard and then, through no fault of their own, lost it all. Most people we talked to in the book are employed.
People thought it was something they had done to lose their job or benefits….They didn’t realize it was part of a broader pattern. There are great swaths of working people who are affected and we think it’s our fault. For most of these people, it’s not their fault, it’s just the way policy has been organized. Systematically dismantling pensions and retirement is the perfect example.
With the decline of pensions, it’s even more important to strengthen, not cut, Social Security benefits. Although the country dodged a bullet in 2005, when Bush’s plan for Social Security privatization fizzled, Steele says we still need to be vigilant to protect our benefits from the Wall Street casino.
Don and I make this point that the 2008 recession wouldn’t look a whole lot different from the Great Depression if we didn’t have Social Security and Medicare because there was no safety net then.
The economic elite, says Steele, attack Social Security because it’s a large pool of money for Wall Street to play with.
Nobody should kid themselves that they’re not going to come back and try to implement some parts of that [privatization]….The amount of money at stake is too good and that’s all they care about—access to that money, not American workers.
You can purchase “The Betrayal of the American Dream,” on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on October 7, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jackie Tortora recently joined the AFL-CIO as the blog/social Media editor. Before that, she was a Social Security and Medicare advocate for a national seniors’ organization.

 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wal-Mart Workers in 12 States Stage Historic Strikes, Protests Against Workplace Retaliation

Oct. 10, 2012

Wal-Mart workers have launched historic labor protests and strikes across 28 stores in 12 states, the first retail worker strike in the company’s 50-year history. According to organizers, employees are protesting company attempts to "silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job." We go to Bentonville, Arkansas, to speak with Mike Compton, a Wal-Mart worker protesting outside the company headquarters today just days after taking part in a successful strike at a Wal-Mart supply warehouse in Elwood, Illinois. We’re also joined by Josh Eidelson, a contributing writer for Salon and In These Times who broke the story of the Wal-Mart store strikes last week. [includes rush transcript]http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/10/walmart_workers_in_12_states_stage

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Bill to Make Employers Less Mean to Pregnant Women

October 3rd, 2012 | Michelle Chen

Whatever our political conflicts, we can generally agree that we should treat pregnant women nicely. We don’t hesitate to help them carry their groceries or give them a seat on the bus. Yet when pregnancy comes up as a political issue, lawmakers are far more fixated on what an expecting mom’s womb is doing, rather than her hands–as she slips the check under your plate and hopes for a decent tip–or her mind–as she loses sleep wondering whether she’ll lose her job as her due date nears.

Under current law, it’s easy for bosses to mistreat pregnant women or force them off the job. Yet the men who run Congress are too busy sponsoring anti-abortion bills and slashing social programs, it seems, to protect pregnant women in the workplace. One of the many labor bills left off the congressional radar is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, (PWFA) which would help prevent pregnant women from being arbitrarily fired and make employers better accommodate them.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, the PWFA builds on existing anti-discrimination laws by extending specific protections to pregnant employees. The legislation directs employers to “make reasonable accommodations” for an employee or job applicant’s limitations stemming from “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” unless this would pose “undue hardship” on the business. In addition, as the New York Times’ Motherlode explains, the law would bar employers from “using a worker’s pregnancy to deny her opportunities on the job [or] force her to take an accommodation that she does not want or need.” The bill also directs the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to set regulations for implementing these laws, including “a list of exemplary reasonable accommodations.”

It was introduced earlier this year in the House and this month in the Senate–and not surprisingly, faces pretty bleak odds for being enacted.

The bill expands on legislation passed in the 1970s that protects women from discrimination related to pregnancy. Those earlier policies have been interpreted in such a way as to let companies refuse to make reasonable adjustments for pregnant workers. Similarly, federal and state family-and-medical-leave acts protect women from discrimination related to a seeking medical care, including for pregnancy. But many expecting mothers are left unprotected by these measures; the FMLA for example covers only unpaid leave–not the paid leave time that’s essential to protect the health of workers and their families–and generally only workplaces of 50 or more employees.

The PWFA would not shield expectant women from mistreatment altogether. The “undue burden” clause may give employers some leeway, for instance, to refuse to provide accommodations in job duties or schedules for a mom-to-be. Still, the measure would press firms to make sensible modifications for pregnant workers, such as no longer lifting heavy weights.

As with many women’s rights issues, this is also a matter of economic fairness. About 60 percent of women who gave birth in a given year also worked during that time, according to recent data; many moms are primary breadwinners, too. Making workplaces more pregnancy-friendly isn’t about coddling women; it’s about putting pregnancy on par with other medical or physical challenges workers face. Sarah Crawford, director of workplace fairness at the National Partnership, noted in an email to Working In These Times:
The result for working pregnant women is that they are too often forced to quit or take unpaid leave because their employer denies them reasonable accommodations that are lawfully required for other workers with temporary disabilities.
Losing work a double-blow for pregnant women who need to prepare financially for a new member of the household. Even if they’re not outright fired, Crawford points out, “some employers force pregnant workers into unpaid leave prematurely, which means that women are forced to take a heavy financial hit just as they are about to give birth.”

Moreover, if a pregnant woman is unfairly fired, she may have trouble simply getting hired as a new mom, which some employers may see as a liability. (Not to mention affording quality child care so she can hold onto that new job).

The National Partnership also notes major health implications for women who lose a job during pregnancy, and for their babies: The stress incurred may raise “the risk of having a premature baby and/or a baby with low birth weight.” If she can earn more before having the baby, she can potentially take more time off for maternity leave–meaning more time for bonding, breastfeeding and other essential nurturing tasks for parents that our labor structure tends to ignore.

Ironically, companies themselves suffer when they arbitrarily dismiss workers for pregnancy or childbirth-related reasons, because high workforce turnover is counterproductive in the long run.
Yet many workplaces still make women bear the brunt of the cost of childbearing. So next time you graciously offer your bus seat to a pregnant woman, just think about how our politicians fail to stand up for the labor rights of those who do the work of bringing us into the world.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 27, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

Walmart Workers Strike at Stores Nationwide

 


Common Dreams Staff
Walmart workers at various stores around the country are on strike today, protesting poor working conditions and alleged retaliation for their attempts to organize.
Workers strike Thursday outside a Southern California Walmart store. (Photo: Organization United for Respect—Our Walmart). The one-day strike was expected to culminate in a mass rally outside a store in Pico Rivera, Calif., this afternoon.

OUR Walmart, a coalition of Walmart workers and other sympathizers, organized the protest.
According to Salon.com, Pico Rivera Wal-Mart employee Evelin Cruz said “I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m scared … But I think the time has come, so they take notice that these associates are tired of all the issues in the stores, all the management retaliating against you.” Rivera, a department manager, said her store is chronically understaffed: “They expect the work to be done, without having the people to do the job.”

According to a release from the group, although Walmart's more than 4,000 stores employ 1.4 million people in the United States, "For too many of us, the economy Walmart helped create isn't working—but we have the power to change it."

OUR Walmart's objectives include, but are not limited to, minimum pay of $25,000 a year, quality, affordable health coverage; that Walmart and the Walton family sign "a global labor agreement" guaranteeing employees the right to organize; and that they guarantee that contractors and subcontractors will "provide living wages and worker safety protections, respect basic human and labor rights including freedom of association, and freedom from racial and gender discrimination," according to the release.

A previous, 15-day strike in Riverside, Calif., prompted today's strike, according to David Dayen at FiredogLake.com.

"In the past, Walmart has responded harshly to unionization efforts," Dayen wrote. "When one set of food workers voted to join a union at a Walmart store in North America, the company simply shut down the store and left the area. Walmart has seen labor actions at its supply chain in recent weeks too, particularly around the guest worker abuse at a seafood supplier in Louisiana. Labor organizers also brought tens of thousands to the streets of Los Angeles to protest the proposed opening of a new store in Chinatown. These actions are clearly linked and are feeding off one another. But Walmart’s vicious anti-unionization efforts give them the upper hand."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Women Who Edit Magazines Make $15,000 Less Than Men

 

Septemeber 27, 2012, Alyssa Rosenberg

The latest numbers from Folio about who makes what in the world of magazine editing reaffirm what we already know: women make less money than men in comparable positions. Male editors-in-chief or editorial directors of magazines make $100,800 to women’s $85,100. For executive editors, men pull down $84,200 to women’s $65,700. And for senior editors, men make $63,600 to the $58,200 women take home in salary. What those numbers don’t tell us is how to start rectifying those pay gaps, which, as Folio editor Bill Mickey told The Atlantic Wire, start to seem inevitable: “We don’t have any further insight into that number, except that the gap has historically been about the same and I believe aligns with national trends across other industries.” We’ve collected data on gender and pay and gender and bylines for a long time. But if we want things to change, we need to start cross-referencing these numbers to see who’s doing worse, who’s doing better, and why.

Folio’s numbers, for example, break out pay not just by gender, but by whether the editors at business-to-business publications, consumer magazines, and trade publications, where they are geographically, by size of publication, and by years in the business. Looking at the numbers by gender alone are discouraging—they make it look like everyone is doing badly. But if we started cross-referencing those numbers, we might be able to see if some kinds of publications do better than others. Are women able to get a leg up in business-to-business magazines? Are the numbers skewed by bigger-than-normal pay gaps in New York, the center of the magazine industry? Are the numbers closer to parity in entry-level positions, indicating that time is doing the work to change a culture of pay inequality that magazines previously haven’t done?

These are the same kinds of questions that it would be useful to apply in film and television as well, where there is much less comprehensive salary data in any case. Knowing if women do better in dramas or comedies, in shows or films produced by different studios or airing on different networks or distributed by different companies would help us figure out who’s doing exceptionally poorly, and who’s made strides.

Until we figure out who’s doing better and who’s doing worse, we won’t be able to start asking questions about the specific cultures and practices that produce pay gaps and those that are proving successful at closing them. There are challenges, to that, of course, most significant that these surveys survive on some kind of anonymity. The organizations and individuals who are doing poorly would never want to be exposed as being so. And even organizations that do better may be hesitant to step forward to talk about their practices, for risk of exposing themselves to scrutiny for the work that still remains, and to questions from their own employees about whatever gaps persist. The fact that we lack information about salaries is intentional, and always to the benefit of companies that pay those salaries. Without accurate, cross-referenced data, it’s difficult for individuals to know if they’re being paid fairly and to negotiate if they’re not. And without those numbers, it’s impossible for us to identify industry-wide best practices, either. Numbers like these are an opening step in a road towards actual, useful transparency, rather than the end of it.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on September 27, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for ThinkProgress.org. She is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com and The Loop 21. Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a B.A. in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of Washingtonian.com and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in Esquire.com, The Daily, The American Prospect, The New Republic, National Journal, and The Daily Beast.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

White Teacher Files Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against HBCU and Wins!

Shira Hedgepeth claims she was fired from Winston-Salem State University, a Historically Black College and University, because she is a white woman. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling backs up the claim.

Hedgepeth was the university’s director of academic technology in the Department of Information Technology and had worked there prior to her termination in September 2010, since August 2008.
A Winston-Salem State University letter to the EEOC denies the allegation and says her termination was nondiscriminatory. They mention that WSSU hired a new associate provost and chief information officer and soon after, the two terminated Hedgepeth because they were “going in a different direction” and the position had new responsibilities that required “advanced skills in systems and applications programming.”

The EEOC concluded that Hedgepeth’s “race, white, was a factor in the terms and conditions of employment and respondent’s (WSSU’s) decision to terminate her employment.” –yvette caslin
Read the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s response to Shira Hedgepeth’s claim.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The EEOC Declines To Ask The Supreme Court To Hear EEOC v. CRST




The explosive ruling in EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., 670 F.3d 897 (8th Cir. 2012), in which the Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa’s order that sanctioned the EEOC a whopping $4.5 million, is easily a contender for our “Top 5 Most Intriguing Decisions In EEOC Cases Of 2012.” (Click here for a discussion of our 2011 choices).
In EEOC v. CRST, the Commission filed suit on behalf of a charging party and a class of approximately 270 similarly-situated female employees who the EEOC alleged had suffered sexual harassment in violation of Title VII. The charging party later intervened in the lawsuit, as did two other individual plaintiffs. CRST moved for summary judgment on a number of grounds, including that the alleged victims were not subject to conduct rising to the level of harassment and had not availed themselves of the company’s complaint mechanisms. CRST also argued that certain class members and the EEOC were precluded from pursuing the claim because of a failure to disclose the claims in earlier bankruptcy proceedings. Importantly, CRST also sought dismissal of all claims based on the EEOC’s failure to identify, investigate, and conciliate on behalf of dozens of its purported “class” members. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa ruled in CRST’s favor and dismissed the entire action. It subsequently entered a whopper of fee sanction award – of nearly $4.5 million against the EEOC – in EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., 257 F.R.D. 513 (N.D. Iowa 2010).

We have blogged about EEOC v. CRST on numerous occasions, beginning with the Eighth Circuit’s opinion and judgment on February 22, 2012 in which it affirmed the District Court’s holding that the EEOC had failed to adequately investigate and conciliate before filing suit. The Eighth Circuit’s decision admonished that the EEOC cannot use discovery as a way to find its class members, but instead the EEOC must identify its class members during its investigation and then must conciliate those claims before filing suit. On the other hand, the Eighth Circuit reversed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment on the EEOC’s claims as to the charging party who had failed to disclose her claims in bankruptcy proceedings, holding that the EEOC sued in its own capacity, and was not bound to a judicial estoppel theory applicable to the claimant/intervener. The District Court therefore held that CRST was not a “prevailing party” in the case at large. As a result, the Eighth Circuit reversed the award of $4.5 million in fees and expenses.

Following the three-judge panel’s decision, the EEOC petitioned for reconsideration of the ruling and requested review by the Eighth Circuit’s full panel of eleven judges. On May 8, 2012, the Eighth Circuit granted the EEOC’s petition and vacated its well-known February 22, 2012 opinion and judgment – containing the same resounding criticism of the EEOC’s “sue first, ask questions later.” We discussed the implications of the Eighth Circuit’s May 8 decision and how the ruling in EEOC v. CRST is a significant defeat for the Commission’s tactical approach to systemic litigation.

On the heels of the EEOC’s resounding loss and at the hands of the Eighth Circuit panel, the EEOC renewed its petition for rehearing – again requesting the full Eighth Circuit panel’s opinion and judgment – just one day after its loss. We blogged about the implications of the EEOC’s renewed petition, and how the EEOC demonstrated that it would not go down without a fight. In June of 2012, the Eighth Circuit put the issue to rest and rejected the EEOC’s bid for rehearing en banc.

Recent Developments In EEOC v. CRST

The EEOC’s focus on large-scale, high-impact and high-profile investigations and cases led many to assume that the EEOC would exhaust every available avenue to undermine the Eighth Circuit’s decision in EEOC v. CRST. To that end, we have rather surprising news of the Commission’s about face. Recently, the EEOC opted not to file a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Eighth Circuit’s ruling, and the Eighth Circuit issued its mandate.

The recent developments in EEOC v. CRST have significant implications for CRST because the Eighth Circuit’s ruling that dismissed almost all of the claims against CRST is left in place. As for a broader impact, employers can continue to rely on EEOC v. CRST for the proposition that the EEOC must identify every potential “class” member before filing suit. This is good news for employers, as the decision is a powerful broad-side to attack the EEOC’s systemic litigation tactics.

For more discussion regarding the EEOC’s investigation and litigation tactics, check out our recent submission to the EEOC that provides recommendations to the EEOC for ways in which it can better achieve the goal of discrimination-free workplaces while not disregarding employer interests and involvement in the process.

Readers can also find this post on our Workplace Class Action blog here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Most Minimum Wage Earners Are Women

 

June 26, 2012, Tula Connell

One of the stats that always amazes is this: If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

Instead, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That translates to $15,080 per year, below the poverty line for a family of three—if the work is full-time.

Stunning as that is, it gets even worse when you realize that the majority of those paid the minimum wage are women: In 2011, more than 62 percent of minimum wage workers were women, compared with only 38 percent of male minimum wage workers, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

It’s especially bad that women make up the majority of minimum wage earners because women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a typical man earns. Women of color are far more likely to hold low-wage jobs than men, and two-thirds of mothers now are either the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families. Their lower wages mean they will receive less from Social Security, their primary source of retirement income.

Slightly more than 2.5 million women earn the minimum wage or less, while about 1.5 million men do.

Pointedly, the report notes:
From 1968 to 2010, incomes for the top 1 percent of earners increased by 110 percent, but the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage has fallen by 31 percent. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.
But these same 1 percenters are some of those who block efforts at the local and national levels to raise the minimum wage. In fact, research has shown no job loss results from reasonable minimum wage increases, even when the economy is struggling.

On the contrary, a minimum wage increase boosts consumer spending and can improve the nation’s weak economy by growing demand through increased purchasing power.

This blog originally appeared in ALC-CIO on June 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ask Your Senators to Support Equal Pay


June 1, 2012, National Organization of Women (NOW) (www.NOW.org)

For the last two weeks, supporters of equal pay have been making calls to the Senate, and we can't thank you enough. Well, we still need your calls, and we're excited to let you know that the toll-free number is still working, so please read on . . .

U.S. women need fair pay now -- and two minutes of your time could help them get it!

The Paycheck Fairness Act directly affects working women and families in your state and across the country. Nationally, a typical woman working full time, year round still is paid only 77 cents for every dollar a typical man is paid. PFA is the next step in closing this disparity. Call your senators today at 1-888-876-9527 and ask them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act!

Currently there is no broad prohibition against penalizing or even firing employees just for TALKING about their salaries. By keeping workers in the dark, employers prevent them from ever learning they are experiencing pay discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act changes that.

Your senators vote will be crucial in passing this bill that will help to close that wage gap.

STEP 1: Let your senators know that constituents want them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Women and families need equal pay in this economy. You can help: Call 1-888-876-9527 today.

Once you call, you will hear directions explaining how to speak with your senators, and then you will be patched through directly to their office.

STEP 2: Double your impact by forwarding this message to friends and family!

Women need fair pay now. Will your senators support equal pay? Every call counts, and the vote is expected next week! Your call is needed today. Please dial 1-888-876-9527.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting Heard on Workplace Violence

May 14th, 2012 | Richard Negri

I was recently with the Nurse Alliance of California for its annual Legislative Conference. It is always an honor for me to share information with nurses about online tools we can and should employ as activists. Although I think my breakouts at the conference went over well, one of the themes of the conference — which many of you know I’ve been somewhat absorbed with — is workplace violence and workplace violence prevention. My goal here is to tie in information about this important subject matter and couple it with the online tools in our educated union member tool box.

With the advent of workplace violence among the top issues we face every day, would you agree that it is incumbent on us to start up and/or maintain the drumbeat about this discussion? When one of our sisters or brothers gets brutally beaten or killed on the job, our reaction is immediate and strong, but how can we get to talking up a storm on this every day of the week? In part, this is about getting us mobilized around a few entry points to the discussion; in part it is to help us focus on some online venues we can take advantage of to get the conversation off the ground. Are you in this with me?

What I Know…

If you have been a nurse for a couple of weeks or a nurse for the last 30 years, violence on the job is never very far from you. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of legal protections in place. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes workplace violence as a hazard, but has no federal regulations in place requiring employers to deal with the problem. While some states, like New York, have some laws in place (thanks to the Public Employees Federation (PEF) and other unions) if there is no accountability, the laws are just bundles of paper in a drawer somewhere.

Various papers, studies, scholars, union leaders, and other folks reiterate this point: Workplace violence is an epidemic that many outside our facilities or day-to-day life have no clue even happens, much less how often it happens. More healthcare professionals are either assaulted or killed on the job than any other profession or trade.

For many of us, it is tremendously difficult to talk about something if we don’t have a concrete definition of what “it” is. What does that mean? We can all talk about what we think and feel after a co-worker is beaten on the job. We can all attend rallies, services, light candles, shake our heads … but what is “it”? What is the definition of workplace violence?

Jonathan Rosen, MS CIH, Director of the Occupational Safety & Health Department for the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF), facilitated an amazing breakout session on workplace violence at the California legislative conference. One slide in his presentation defined workplace violence very succinctly: ”Workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.”

Maybe as you read that, you thought about the countless times you felt threatened, were threatened, or were verbally abused at work. It’s likely that more than half of you have had first-hand experience with violence on the job.

This is probably not breaking news, but there are papers and studies out there that reveal that healthcare providers often do not report violence that occurs on the job. Another of Jonathan’s slides cited a National Crime Victimization Survey: “58% of harassed employees do not report incidents. Fewer than than half of workers report assault to the police. Only 25% of rapes at work are reported.”

Having the Discussion and Reporting the Problem(s)

Government statistics underestimate the true extent of violence at the workplace because:

* Data is collected on “battery” or incidents resulting in physical injury or death. Threats, verbal threats, and harassment are not reported to government agencies.

* In some jobs, assaults are so common that they are dismissed as “part of the job.”

* Other possible sources of information about violence — like hospital records or police reports — often fail to provide information about whether the injury was or was not work-related.

* Employers discourage employees from filing workers’ compensation claims for assault. In addition, many injuries do not meet the criteria for receiving workers’ compensation.

The reasons why our workplaces at times explode into violence add up to a growing list. According to the Safe Work, Safe Care Project, patients can become violent as a result of mental disorders, substance abuse, a past history of violence, head injuries, and confusion. The Project’s list includes about twenty issues — these are just the top five.

But why are we hesitant to report instances of violence on the job? Many of us may have heard about the OSHA General Duty Clause — but, what is it? It’s important!

OSHA’s General Duty Clause and EVERY Employer’s RESPONSIBILITY!

Every employer in the United States is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe and healthy workplace for its employees. The good news for us is this: THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS. That, sisters and brothers, that is the law. It is your right as a worker.

Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that an employer: “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

This is what we refer to as the OSHA General Duty Clause.

In September 2011, OSHA issued procedures for its field staff to use when responding to incidents and complaints of workplace violence. We believe that this directive will help inspectors use the General Duty Clause when they can.

Start the Conversation with Thousands and Thousands of Nurses

Here are our talking points:

1) Workplace violence defined: “Workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.”

2) The Department of Justice says that fewer than half of all non-fatal violent workplace crimes are reported to the police.

3) Some known causes for under-reporting workplace assaults include:

“Part of the job” syndrome

Fear of blame or reprisal

Lack of management/peer support

Feeling it’s not worth the effort

4) OSHA and the OSHA General Duty Clause:

There are no OSHA standards regarding workplace violence (ain’t that something?) — however…as mentioned, in September 2011 OSHA issued directives for field staff when investigating incidents of workplace violence.

And …you have the right to a place of employment that is free from recognized occupational hazards which cause or are likely to cause serious harm, illness, or death.

5) Violence is recognized occupational hazard!

This blog originally appeared in Union Review on May 14, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Courageous Black Secret Service Woman Revealed Scandal

A Black Secret Service agent is being hailed as the heroine in what is reportedly the worst scandal in the agency’s history.

Paula Reid is the 46-year-old special agent responsible for blowing the whistle on the sex scandal that turned the esteemed agency into so much fodder for the 24-hour news cycle and cable talk shows. Reid, the head of the service detail down in Latin America, discovered that at least 11 agents, including two supervisors, had brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, Colombia, just days before the president arrived for an international summit. Such action posed a significant security risk for the commander-in-chief.
Officials are praising Reid for her swift action.

“She acted decisively, appropriately,” said Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, and one of Congress’ lead investigators into this incident, on ABC’s “This Week” on April 22.

The other, New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from the House Oversight Committee, added, “I talked to [Secret Service Director Mark] Sullivan last night, and he was commending her leadership, too. She really went in there and cleaned up the mess.”

In the wake of Reid’s probe, six agents have been fired, six others are being investigated and 11 military personnel are also under scrutiny. Officials are also examining whether this incident was part of a pattern.

“I recognize that the vast majority of Secret Service personnel are professional, disciplined, dedicated, courageous. But to me it defies belief that this is just an aberration,” Collins said. “There were too many people involved. If it had been one or two, then I would say it was an aberration. But it included two supervisors. That is particularly shocking and appalling.”
Reid’s leadership in this case is also shining a light on the paucity of women and minorities within the Secret Service.

“I can't help but wonder if there'd been more women as part of that detail if this ever would have happened,” Collins said Sunday on the weekly news talk show.

According to Maloney, the agency comprises only 11 percent women. “I can't help but keep asking this question, where are the women? We probably need to diversify the Secret Service and have more minorities and more women.”

‘We Don’t Go to Work to Be Touched’: Sexual Harassment in the Warehouse

April 20th, 2012 | Kari Lydersen

“We don’t go to work to be touched, to be talked down to, to be told what our bodies look like. We know what our bodies look like when we put on our clothes in the morning,” Uylonda Dickerson said.

But constant remarks about their bodies, and unwanted touching, advances, mean-spirited “pranks” and other forms of sexual harassment are a regular occurrence for many of the more than 30,000 women—like Dickerson—who work in the warehouse industry in the Chicago area, according to a report (PDF) released this week by the group Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ). And women often face retaliation for reporting harassment.

In an extreme example that is currently the subject of a lawsuit, 19-year-old Priscilla Marshall, her mother and her teenage friend allege they were repeatedly subject to aggressive and abusive sexual assaults and language by a 45-year-old manager at the Partners Warehouse in Elwood, Ill. After the three women and Marshall’s uncle and the mother’s boyfriend complained, they were fired or suspended and accused of theft, which resulted in Marshall and her mother spending 15 and seven days in jail, respectively, according to the lawsuit filed March 9.

WWJ’s Leah Fried told me that the same industry structure that allegedly allows for widespread violations of labor law, extremely low wages and unhealthy conditions also contributes to a climate of unchecked sexual harassment and retaliation. The warehousing (or logistics) industry is based on layers of subcontractors, so that major companies like Wal-Mart rarely own and operate the warehouses where their goods are stored and distributed. Fried said:

A major factor is the layering of management, it’s another way the owners say of WalMart shirk responsibility and subcontract and subcontract so no one is taking responsibility for a very basic legal obligation (avoiding sexual harassment). There’s also the low unionization rate – because so many jobs are temp jobs and because very few warehouse workers have a union, it makes it easier for management to get away with violating people’s rights. Not having a union is a big deal – and a big reason people can be exploited more easily.

WWJ (launched by the United Electrical workers union, for which Fried is an organizer) is trying to fill the gap by educating women and men about sexual harassment and their rights and responsibilities, and providing resources for legal action and a forum for organizing and leveraging community support. Various elected officials, religious leaders and other residents attended a forum on International Women’s Day, called “Take Back the Warehouse,” in reference to Take Back the Night marches.

WWJ’s extensive surveys of the Chicago-area industry found that about one quarter of warehouse workers are women; the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports similar numbers nationwide.

The report and forum are part of WWJ’s three-year-old campaign to improve conditions and accountability in the warehouses where consumer goods destined for stores around the country are staged for distribution.

The group has also recently launched a Warehouse Women’s Legal Defense Fund to subsidize legal action for women with sexual harassment or other gender-based complaints. In conjunction with the Working Hands Legal Clinic, WWJ recently helped Marshall and her mother, friend, uncle and mother’s boyfriend sue Partners Warehouse manager Brian Swaw, and people whom Swaw allegedly enlisted to intimidate and threaten the plaintiffs after they complained about his conduct. The lawsuit alleges Swaw repeatedly touched their breasts and buttocks, thrust his crotch in their faces and told Marshall’s then-17-year-old friend that when she turned 18 he would have sex with her.

The lawsuit also alleges Swaw also made frequent racial slurs toward Latinos, and suspended, and then fired, the plaintiffs after they complained. It also alleges he enlisted a former police officer (who was facing a federal indictment) and a private investigator to intimidate the plaintiffs and falsely charge them with theft, forgery and filing a false police report.

While that was an extreme situation, many other women told WWJ organizers that they deal with unequal pay, constant verbal and physical harassment and the threat of retaliation if they complain on a daily basis.

Elizabeth Labrador said after she complained about being paid $2 to $3 an hour less than men doing the same job at a warehouse for Petco, she was assigned to lift heavy fish tanks and ended up hurting her back.

Female workers report sexual harassment from both top managers and co-workers lower down the organizational hierarchy, so WWJ is trying to convince men they should be joining with their female co-workers to fight for better conditions rather than making their jobs even rougher. Fried told me:

A lot of men need to receive some education about what’s appropriate in the workplace. Because that’s not happening from the companies that employ them and operate the warehouse, because the industry is not doing their job, WWJ founded a women’s committee with one of the roles being to develop sexual harassment training for both women and men. The men have been incredibly supportive, it’s been eye-opening for them. They’ve found that absolutely this is an issue that affects women and also that it’s about making warehouses better for everybody.

Women quoted in the report describe constant patterns of humiliating and threatening behavior that left them exhausted and dreading their jobs. Dickerson, who worked at a Wal-Mart warehouse, said she was locked in a trailer and constantly derided by men asking things like “Did you chip a nail?” Latasha Davis described men gathering to watch women bend over to pick up boxes.

Samantha Rodriguez, a former Wal-Mart warehouse worker, is quoted in the report:

When I went to another supervisor about the harassment, he asked me out on a date. I said “no,” and eventually I got fired. I pride myself on being an independent woman. I do remodeling, I hang drywall, I put in floors. That’s my profession. So I went to warehouses because I like doing that kind of work. Now, I won’t step foot in a warehouse. I refuse to. Because, the way they treated me wasn’t right.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on April 19, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book isRevolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached atkari.lydersen@gmail.com.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why Does Idaho’s Governor Pay Female Employees So Much Less Than Men?

March 22, 2012/Travis Waldron

The women who work in Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s (R) cabinet make substantially less than their male colleagues, according to a McClatchy analysis of state salary data. Despite chairing the state Agriculture Department, for instance, Director Celia Gould makes less than male directors.
Gould has been with the administration since its first day in 2007 and oversees 259 employees; Commerce Director Jeffrey Sayer, by contrast, joined the administration in October and oversees 53. And yet, Sayer makes nearly $40,000 a year more than Gould, the highest-paid female employee. In fact, across Otter’s administration, the median wage for women is nearly $20,000 less than the median wage for men, McClatchy found:
She is the highest-paid of the women in Otter’s Cabinet but ranks just 16th among all top full-time officials. The median salary for 11 women in the Cabinet is $85,446; the median for the 33 men is $103,002.
“We really do have a glass ceiling in Idaho,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum, the senior Democrat in the Legislature and a member of the budget committee.
While the pay gap between Otter’s male and female employees is substantial — the women make roughly 82 cents for every dollar earned by men — it isn’t as large as the overall pay gap between men and women in America. American women make about 77 percent of what men make, and the gap is even larger for minorities. In 2010, black women made 67.7 percent of all male earnings, while Latino women made just 58.7 percent. That wage gap costs women huge sums of money — a woman with a college degree, for instance, will earn $723,000 less over a 40-year career.
Despite legislative efforts, the gap isn’t closing. President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination, in 2009. Senate Republican, however, blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have updated the Equal Pay Act, closed many of its loopholes, and strengthened incentives to reduce pay discrimination, earlier this year.
This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on March 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Judges Orders Millions Paid in NYC Firefighter Bias Case

By Rose Arce, CNN


A U.S. district judge ordered New York City to pay $128 million in to firefighters who allege the city used an entrance exam that deliberately sought to keep African-Americans and Latino Americans off the force. The judge also ordered the FDNY to hire 293 black and Latino applicants.

"It has been in the city's power to prevent or remedy the need for damages proceedings for a decade, and it has not done so," U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garufis said in his ruling on the class action lawsuit. He called it the "consequences of the city's decision to ignore clear violations of federal law."

The federal government had sued the city (United States of America and Vulcan Society Inc. vs. City of New York) over fire department entrance exams they said discriminated against black and Latino applicants. A group of black firefighters alleged the city had intentionally discriminated against them, violating Title VII, the U.S. Constitution and state law.

The lawsuit alleged that the exams had little to do with firefighting and instead focused on cognitive and reading skills. Because of the hereditary nature of the fire department, white candidates were recruited and supported throughout the application process by family or neighborhood contacts and whites consistently passed while minority candidates failed.

"There has been one persistent stain on the Fire Department's record," the lawsuit said. "For decades, black and other minority firefighters have been severely underrepresented in the Department's ranks.

"According to the most recent census data, black residents make up 25.6% of New York City's population; when this case was filed in 2007, black firefighters accounted for only 3.4% of the Department's force. In other words, in a city of over eight million people, and out of a force with 8,998 firefighters, there were only 303 black firefighters.

"This pattern of underrepresentation has remained essentially unchanged since at least the 1960s. While the city's other uniformed services have made rapid progress integrating black members into their ranks, the Fire Department has stagnated and at times retrogressed."

Michael A. Cardozo, New York City's corporation counsel, disputed the decision. "We believe the court's latest opinion is erroneous and, in any event, is the first step in a lengthy process. As the court itself noted, any damages the city ultimately must pay will be reduced by the amount each member of the class earned. When all the proceedings have been completed, the damages, if any, that the city will have to pay will be far less than $128 million," he said.

In court documents, the city said of the judge's finding of bias: "Under the Court's faulty analysis, any rational jury would necessarily find that the City deliberately used facially neutral exams to suppress black employment even as it conducted a targeted multi-million-dollar minority recruitment campaign, enlisted Columbia University to study methods of maximizing FDNY diversity, increased the minority composition of its other uniformed services, engaged an expert with a mandate to design an improved exam, and devised a panoply of other devices to diversify the FDNY's ranks."

The lack of minorities in U.S. fire departments has been the focus of many lawsuits. The last available national figures, from the 2000 census, show 8.4% of the nation's firefighting forces to be black and 8.6% to be Latino. Blacks are 12.2% of the population; Latinos are roughly 16%. However, other big cities have made much faster progress at diversifying their ranks. More than half of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles fire departments members are black or Latino.

Lawyers for the firefighters who sued said the decision would mean payments to black and Latino applicants to the New York Fire Department who were never hired or hired late from the 1999 and 2002 eligibility lists that resulted from exams given those years.

Paul Washington, past president of the Vulcan Society, said: "The Vulcan Society has been fighting for almost 75 years to open the doors of the Fire Department to black firefighters. This is a great victory for those who have been excluded from serving our city because of their race. We hope the FDNY moves quickly to welcome the 293 Black and Latino applicants who are entitled to be hired, and we look forward to serving with them."

CNN's Javier Luque contributed to this report.