Why I called my relatives this weekend

Why I called my relatives this weekend

Technological people
By Elizabeth Kristen

We are not a close family. We rarely get together.

We certainly don’t call each other on a daily or even monthly basis. It’s basically a text-on-your-birthday type of relationship.

But this weekend, I called my brother and my uncle.

My uncle is a Vietnam veteran and an accountant in Kansas. He is a steadfast democrat and demoralized having lived through Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s destruction of public education in that state.

So he was distressed about Trump, but not mobilized to fight him. I spoke with him about his son, who he thinks voted for Trump and ways my uncle might reach his son about issues that matter to him — net neutrality.  We also chatted about my Aunt and her vote for a third party candidate.  Again, we discussed things that motivate her, such as the IDEA (providing support for students with disabilities — a law Education Secretary Betsy DeVos thinks is optional for the states).  After my conversation with my Uncle, he started emailing me about ways to get involved with fighting back against the Trump agenda.  He told me about this effort to provide a way to contact Trump through his businesses.  So I made that call, and it was great and I emailed my uncle about my experience.  I continue to text my Uncle to call his Kansas Senators.

My brother served in the Army and now lives in Indiana. He is a “white working class” voter. The ones who supposedly love Trump. But my brother also is a Democrat and an Obama supporter. When I called him, he too thought his voice didn’t matter.  I tried to convey the urgency of the panic I feel every day about how Trump is out to destroy everything I care about.

I looked up my brother’s Senators and their positions on the Executive Order Muslim ban and emailed him to call Congress.  To be honest, I am not sure he did it.  But I will keep trying.

Lots of liberals I know bemoan our inability to have conversations with Trump voters. Our emphasis on those lost conversations may be keeping us from remembering the easier and perhaps more impactful calls we can have with our friends and relatives in red states.

They need to make themselves heard too.

Those of us in blue states sometimes may believe we can’t or don’t need to do anything because our Congress people and Senators may share our views.

But we can and should still call Congress. I visited California Senator Diane Feinstein’s local office in person twice last month to urge her to vote against Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. My visit sparked others I know to do the same.

Now is not the time for business as usual. If you are calling your representatives, thank you. Just make sure that the next call you make is to friends and family to ask them to get involved in the fight. If they already are, let’s support each other and continue to connect to those in other states who also are struggling to find meaningful ways to protect the values we care about.

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

We’ve Finally Reached 2016 African American Women’s Equal Pay Day

We've Finally Reached 2016 African American Women’s Equal Pay Day

Harriet Tubman portrait

Today we commemorate “African American Women’s Equal Pay Day,” the day in the year when African American women’s wages finally catch up to what men earned last year.  It is important to note that African American Women’s Equal Pay Day comes nearly four months after “Women’s Equal Pay Day,” which included wages of women of all races, and was marked on April 12th of this year.  The four-month lag signifies the nearly 20-cent wider wage gap African American women face when compared to women of all races.  So, while the average wage gap for all women in the United States is 79 cents for every dollar a man makes, African American women’s wages are at just 60.5 cents on the dollar.  African American lesbian couples, who doubly experience the high wage gap (plus discrimination based on sexual orientation), have triple the poverty rate of white lesbian couples.

Eliminating the racial gender wage gap would provide concrete economic benefits to African American women.  To give a concrete example, women could buy nearly three years of food for their families or pay rent for nearly two years with those additional wages.  Given that so many African American women and their families are struggling to make ends meet, receiving equal pay would make a life-changing difference.

Last year, California passed one of the strongest equal pay laws in the country, the California Fair Pay Act of 2015, which strengthened protection for workers who discuss or ask about their wages and the wages of others.  It also protects women who challenge gender based pay differences in jobs that are “substantially similar” to theirs.  For example, a female housekeeper who is being paid less than a male janitor could remedy the pay difference since the jobs are so similar and wage inequality would likely be unjustified.  The California Labor Commissioner is charged with enforcing the California Fair Pay Act.

This year, California State Senator Hall has introduced SB 1063, the Wage Equality Act of 2016, which would add race and ethnicity to California’s strong Fair Pay Act.  Under SB 1063, California employers would be prohibited from paying workers less for substantially similar work based on race or ethnicity.  An African American woman thus might have a claim that she is being paid less based not only on sex, but on race as well.  With SB 1063, she would be able to more effectively address racial wage inequality.

Certain cities already are specifically addressing wage inequality by sex, race and ethnicity.  For example, in San Francisco, city contractors will have to disclose data on what they pay their workers, broken down by both sex and race, to the City.  California state contractors may also be required to submit similar pay data reports under another bill that should reach the governor’s desk for approval.  And the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission intends to revise its Employer Information Report (EEO-1) data collection to include salary information based on ethnicity, race, and sex.

Our current laws against sex and race discrimination have proven inadequate to end race- and sex-based unequal pay since the pay gap remains depressingly large more than fifty years after passage of federal civil rights laws in these areas. Pay disclosure rules are an important step towards closing the pay gap for women and women of color in particular. They force employers to self-audit and identify unjustified pay disparities.  In the event they do not correct the disparities, disclosure enable government agencies to conduct targeted enforcement of equal pay laws.

It will reportedly be more than a decade before the first African American woman (Harriet Tubman) graces the face of U.S. currency.  With these new laws there is hope that before the Tubmans arrive, African American women will already be receiving the full value of those $20 bills and not just 60 percent.

The Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

What we can learn from the U.S. women’s soccer team this Equal Pay Day

What we can learn from the U.S. women's soccer team this Equal Pay Day
Leroux

U.S. soccer fan and cutout of U.S. national team player, Sydney Leroux, at the Women’s World Cup Final in 2015.

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer team recently became the (familiar) faces of the problem of women being paid less than men for the same work.  Last month, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying that the U.S. Soccer Foundation pays the women far less than its male players.  While inequalities in the treatment of female athletes are legion—recall the controversy about the women’s team being forced to play on artificial turf, the recent offensive comments about women’s tennis, and ESPN’s failure to include the women’s basketball bracket in its app— there has been less attention focused on pay disparities.  When we talk about female athletes’ pay, the usual excuse for paying women less is that they generate less revenue.  Yet the women’s soccer team generated $20 million more in revenue than the men, but are paid four times less.  The women’s team has been far more successful than the men’s team, including winning three World Cup championships, but still struggle for fair and equal pay.

Unequal pay is a problem for all women, and has real financial consequences.  Indeed, one study found the gender pay gap begins even with the unequal allowance boys and girls are given for household chores.  Melinda Gates recently pointed out the additional burden on women around the world of unpaid additional household work.  The annual cost of the gender pay gap is $9 trillion dollars — dragging down the entire global economy.

On April 12, 2016, we observe Equal Pay Day (now in its twentieth year).   Equal Pay Day symbolizes how many days into the next year women have to work to make what men earned in the prior year.  Unfortunately, we likely will be observing Equal Pay Day until 2059 — the estimated date we can expect to close the gender pay gap.  Equal Pay Day falls at different points in the calendar for women of color who experience a more egregious wage gap than do white women (as compared to all men and/or white men).  The federal Equal Pay Act has been on the books for more than 50 years.  Yet every year, women are deprived of valuable economic and tangible benefits of their hard work.

Pay disparities exist in all sorts of jobs where women and men perform the same work.  For example, female pilots are paid 16 percent less than male pilots and women who are chefs earn 28.1 percent less than male chefs.  In the tech industry, women are experiencing a significant pay gap with women in Silicon Valley earning on average just 49 cents for a man’s dollar.  The cause of the gender pay gap goes beyond factors like education and choice of profession.  As much as 40 percent of the gender pay gap is unexplained by such measurable factors.  When women enter a male dominated profession, pay begins to decrease.

This year, a stronger equal pay law went into effect in California.  The law should ensure that women who perform substantially similar work to men receive the same pay.  For example, one caller to the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center explained that the job of cleaning up fire- or water-damaged homes is sometimes gender-segregated with women receiving less pay. Given that the work is so similar, it is likely that under the California Fair Pay Act, women cleaners should be paid the same as men.  However, one big problem is that women often do not know how much men in similar jobs are being paid.  The new California law enhances protections for workers who talk about their pay (or ask about the pay of others).  Once a California worker does know about a pay disparity, it will be up to the employer to prove it was based on a factor other than sex and that it explains the entire wage difference.

Ending the gender pay gap calls for action on many fronts.  The Equal Pay Today Campaign (of which LAS-ELC is a member) has called for five specific changes — ending job segregation, stopping wage theft, eliminating retaliation for discussing wages, stopping pay disparities as a result of parenting and caregiving responsibilities, and changing the disparities in pay in promotions for women performing the same job as men.  Another recently proposed piece of legislation in California (CELA-sponsored) would prohibit employers from using a new employee’s prior salary to base salary decisions in order to begin to break the cycle of persistent pay discrimination for women.

As we observe Equal Pay Day and anticipate the U.S. women’s soccer team’s appearance at the summer Olympics in Brazil this summer, we hope to recognize the amazing contributions made by women throughout the world that finally deserve equal recognition through ending the gender pay gap – because it’s 2016!

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

Even when LGBT Pride Parade is over, corporations should keep marching against discrimination

Even when LGBT Pride Parade is over, corporations should keep marching against discrimination

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By Elizabeth Kristen

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands lined Market Street and watched the corporate contingents as they marched in San Francisco’s annual LGBT Pride Parade.  The corporate banners and legions of marching employees are testament to how companies are trying hard to appear that they have “come out” as pro-LGBT rights.  Other signs of change can be seen in the recent corporate advertising campaigns featuring LGBT couples and families.  This kind of corporate support for LGBT equality and the integration of the LGBT community into the mainstream has undoubtedly been a forceful engine for change.  But the majority of LGBT workers are still afraid to come out fully in their places of work and they continue to face harassment and discrimination.

Given the long wait for a federal non-discrimination law, what can employers do to welcome LGBT employees and keep them safe?  A critical component that should be familiar to every HR manager is promoting a positive, inclusive LGBT workplace culture. Fortunately, according to a recent study, most employee resource groups have already achieved this. 67% of LGBT employees feel “very welcomed” by their employee resource group, while only 2% feel either “not too welcomed” or “rejected.” But this leaves a substantial middle ground that companies can improve on by making overtures to LGBT employees, while taking an emphatic stance against offensive comments, jokes, and policies.

Implementation of pro-LGBT personnel policies is also important, as it addresses important concerns for LGBT employees while also familiarizing non-LGBT people with LGBT needs. Companies that want to demonstrate their commitment should also provide benefits to compensate for legal inequalities that same-sex couples face, as Google did in 2010, and cover important gender confirmation surgery for interested transgender individuals.

Some statistics also tell the story of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

  • 91% of Fortune 500 companies have extended workplace protections to cover sexual orientation, up from 61% in 2002.
  • For transgender individuals, the proportion is only 61% as of 2014.  That number is up from 3% in 2002, but still falls short.

Policies on paper are not enough to change a workplace, however.  Real cultural shifts only come with action, including action at the top of the corporate ladder.  Employers who mandate LGBT sensitivity in workplace training alongside race, sex, national origin, disability and other characteristics are making the welcome message clear.  And those who implement gender neutral bathrooms are putting into everyday practice a respect for the diversity of their workforce. And though homophobic objections are becoming more and more marginalized, companies and/or their CEO’s can repudiate them publicly, in a way that will convey to both employees and consumers that the company stands by its commitment to the LGBT community.

Despite the fantastic victories achieved, the fight for LGBT rights and inclusivity is far from over. Workplaces have a role to play in that fight. Workplace managers should take pride in what progress they have facilitated, yet remain attentive to the challenges that remain. Just because June’s LGBT Pride Month is over, there is no reason to stop marching towards pro-LGBT workplaces.

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

With so many corporations coming out for LGBT rights, why are so many workers still in the closet? 1

With so many corporations coming out for LGBT rights, why are so many workers still in the closet?

charlotte pride photo.fixed

It is hard to deny the remarkable ascendance of LGBT rights over the past decade. But the breathtaking gains in marriage equality in all corners of the country have obscured the focus on at least one important arena where we still lack equality – the workplace.

A recent Human Rights Campaign survey details the experiences of LGBT people at work.  Perhaps most startlingly in an era when being out is in for LGBT celebrities, sports figures, and politicians the survey revealed that 53% of everyday LGBT folks are still fully or mostly closeted at work.  When polled about why they remain closeted, 38% of respondents cited the possibility of making others feel uncomfortable; 36% responded that they feared the possibility of being stereotyped; 31% feared losing connections or relationships with coworkers; and 23% anticipated being passed over for advancement or development opportunities.

LGBT workers who fear disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity are probably pretty accurate in predicting how their co-workers might react.  Less than half of non-LGBT survey respondents said they felt comfortable hearing an LGBT coworker talk about their social life, dating, or a related subject, and more than 70% agreed that it would be “unprofessional” to talk openly about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. Of course, this is a standard that is not applied to straight workers, who routinely regale their closeted LGBT co-workers with stories about their opposite-sex relationships and social life.  Indeed, more than 60% of non-LGBT respondents reported that children, spouses, and social activities were indispensable topics of conversation in the workplace.

But this survey gives us more to worry about than how LGBT workers are censored in coffee room conversations.  Another finding is that more than one in five respondents had looked for alternate employment in order to avoid anti-LGBT hostility.  And nearly 10% of LGBT employees report they felt so much hostility at their workplace due to their sexual orientation that they had no choice but to leave their job.

The numbers are far worse for transgender workers: a report issued in 2011 by two LGBT rights organizations found that 90% of transgender people nationwide had experienced at least one form of harassment, physical assault, mistreatment, or sexual assault at work because of their gender identity.  And almost half have been fired, not hired or denied a promotion because of anti-transgender bias.

So what is to be done to turn the promise of welcoming workplaces into a reality?  Some might blame closeted employees for hiding their identities from co-workers, thus depriving co-workers of the opportunity to unlearn their stereotypes and bias.  However, the burden should not fall on LGBT employees to expose themselves to the very real risks of harassment, ostracism, job loss, or worse.  As has been the case in the marriage equality movement, coming out has an important role to play in making change in the workplace for LGBT people.  But it cannot happen without the protections of strong anti-discrimination laws and comprehensive employer policies that promote inclusion, train managers to combat harassment, and provide equal benefits for LGBT employees and their families.   In another post, I will be outlining how corporations can do just that.  As for passing laws to end employment discrimination and harassment against LGBT people, the prescription is simple — Congress should finally to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act!

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

Paid Sick Days – Healthy for California

Paid Sick Days – Healthy for California

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By Elizabeth Kristen

This week, California’s “Paid Sick Days” bill cleared another hurdle in the Senate Labor Committee where it passed on a party line vote.  AB 1522, by Assemblymember Gonzalez, would provide all California workers with at least three days of paid sick leave per year. The bill would also allow an employee to use leave if necessary due to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

While a provision of some sick leave is an important improvement upon California law, three days per year is simply not enough.  And the recent deletion of the private right of action, which would allow workers to enforce their rights in court, removes an important mechanism to make sure that workers actually are able to access their right to paid sick days.  California needs to adopt a more robust paid sick leave law. Doing so is critical for public health, for workers and their families, and for California’s economy.

Many workers, especially low-wage workers, do not receive any paid time off from work for their illness. This forces them to work while sick – serving food in restaurants, providing child and elder care, and ringing up purchases as cashiers.  This is bad enough for the workers themselves, but the consequences infect the economy and public health as well.

The burden to work while sick is not something that we all bear equally. Latino workers, for example, are significantly less likely to have paid sick days – only 47 percent of Latinos receive some form of paid time off, compared with 61 percent of the overall workforce. Unsurprisingly, the poorest workers also have the least access to paid sick leave. Thus, workers who can least afford to use unpaid days and who cannot afford to lose their jobs are also those least likely to have paid sick days at their disposal.  Of workers paid $65,000 or more per year, more than 80% have paid sick days; by contrast, only about a quarter of workers making less than $20,000 per year reap this important benefit.

Recognizing this disproportionate burden, several forward-thinking cities have made progress towards eliminating this difficult ultimatum by adopting paid sick leave laws. The table below shows those jurisdictions, including the size of employer covered by the paid sick days law, the maximum amount of leave provided, and whether the leave is paid or unpaid. Although eligibility and the extent of benefits vary greatly, all of these jurisdictions see healthy families and healthy economies as intimately linked, not mutually exclusive.

Paid Sick Days

Although cities have pioneered this protection, some states recognize that the cost or trappings of urban living serve as barriers for many workers and families. The state of Connecticut became the first state to adopt paid sick days in July 2011. Connecticut’s leave can be used for the worker’s own health, for the care of a child or a spouse, or for needs related to domestic violence or sexual assault. A recent report about this law found that offering paid sick days did not harm business. In fact, many businesses reported positive effects, including reduced employee turnover, reduced spread of illness, improved morale, and increased productivity, motivation, and loyalty. Eighteen months after the law took effect, more than 75% of employers were either “very supportive” or “somewhat supportive” of the new law.

Unfortunately in other states, the legislative trend has moved in the opposite direction. Ten states— Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin — have enacted legislation to block cities from adopting paid sick leave, and fourteen other state legislatures have seen the introduction of such legislation.  In addition, Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s paid sick days bill was invalidated by a state law banning such ordinances.

Enactment of a federal law allowing workers to protect their health without sacrificing their financial or occupational wellbeing would override state laws hostile to the rights of workers. Pending national legislation—the Healthy Families Act—would provide paid sick days as well as paid safe days for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  But, for the time being, “[t]he United States is the only country out of the 15 most competitive that doesn’t guarantee paid sick days to all workers, leaving 40 percent in the private sector without access to the leave.”

This coverage gap is not only embarrassing, it also is bad for workers and their families and undermines public health. By allowing workers to address their pressing health needs without sacrificing wages, paid sick leave would preempt the degeneration of illnesses into emergency situations. Without offering paid sick leave, workers must gamble with their health, and may suffer wage and job losses. In addition to these economic concerns, workers’ hardships often need to be offset by significant public assistance expenditures. Nor does the employer benefit by withholding paid sick leave from its employees: loss of productivity due to illness is twice as expensive to employers as absenteeism. These conclusions follow not only from common sense, but from the benefits reaped by workers and businesses across the state of Connecticut.

The rhetoric surrounding this debate is feverish, but the health of our economy and the health of our workers need not be at odds. Paid sick leave is the antidote to many social ills – from economic inefficiency to reliance upon public assistance. All stakeholders should endorse paid sick leave in order to promote a healthier economy, for employers and employees alike.

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

Equal Pay Day and the elusive gender pay gap

Equal Pay Day and the elusive gender pay gap

equal-pay-day-gender-gapBy Elizabeth Kristen

April 8, 2014, is “Equal Pay Day” in the United States. On average, women earn less than men. In fact, in 2012, full-time working women earned only 77% of what men made. That means the average woman must work four additional months—until April 8—to earn the same amount of money as a man. Equal Pay Day is yearly event meant to raise awareness of the gender pay gap.

Data shows that the gender pay gap is real. According to the AAUW, women just out of college earn 7% less than their male peers. As women get older, the pay gap gets worse: women over 35 earn 75-80% of what men make. And there’s nowhere to hide. The pay gap exists in all 50 states.

Although several US laws protect women from pay discrimination, the gender pay gap persists and improvement has recently come to a halt. Observers offer different solutions based on what they see as the root cause. For example, some agitate for legislation to address modern discriminatory employer practices. Some want to raise the minimum wage because women make up a whopping two-thirds of minimum-wage earners. Others train women to “lean in” to fight stereotypes and gendered roles. All of these seem to be viable contributors to this injustice.

Critics say that the gender pay gap is a fallacy. The argument is that women’s “life choices,” nothing more sinister, account for the gap: women tend to choose lower-compensated professions, decline to move for better opportunities, want more flexible schedules, and etc. Scholars dubbed this phenomenon the Mommy Penalty. Because women devote part of their lives to caring for their families, women work less and earn less.  The critics argue that such choices would hinder the progress of anyone’s career, male or female.

But the real fallacy is the “life choices” argument.  First of all, so-called life choices cannot fully explain the gender gap. According to a study by the Center for American Progress, 41.1% of the pay gap “cannot be explained by characteristics of women or their jobs.” “Life choices,” to use the questionable term, cannot account for the disparity.

Second, if workers who have care-giving responsibilities have to make compromises that burden their careers, then that’s an unacceptable contribution to the gender pay gap. And with women accounting for two-thirds of all caregivers, the penalties disproportionately impact women. With better leave laws and more flexible standards, valuable workers would not have to sacrifice their careers if family life calls them home. One day, I hope we reframe this issue and push for a more family friendly workplace notwithstanding sex, gender, or conventionality.

Although the laws are not perfect, California is at the forefront on family leave law, providing several strong statutes with worker-friendly presumptions. In total, California’s work and family laws, including the Pregnancy Disability law, the California Family Rights Act, Paid Family Leave, Kin Care, and the Family-School Partnership Act, mark a strong public policy in support of working families.

Strong family leave laws, however, are only part of the picture. California still has a way to go before it closes its gender pay gap. The Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center is part of the Equal Pay Today! campaign. The campaign has a 5-point platform to end unequal pay practices. Check out the website for details and for ways to get involved.

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

International Women’s Day now means progress without equity

International Women’s Day now means progress without equity

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By Elizabeth Kristen

International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide this past weekend, started out as  “International Working Women’s Day” in 1911. One week later, the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 broke out, killing over 140 workers – mostly women – who were trapped inside the factory. The horror of that fire and the working conditions imposed on the women locked inside the factory galvanized the labor movement and the women’s rights movement. Even though the name may have changed, this annual day honoring women is the perfect time to take account of the barriers working women still face today.

Working women in the United States confront challenges ranging from workplace discrimination and harassment to unequal pay and inadequate leaves of absences.  The 2014 Shriver Report:  A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink collects essays that detail how these barriers impact not only working women, but their families, the economy and society as a whole.

Discrimination and harassment – Women continue to face unlawful discrimination and harassment on the job based on sex, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, national origin, disability, and many other characteristics.  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces our federal civil rights laws published its statistics for charges filed in Fiscal Year 2013.  Charges of sex discrimination constituted approximately 30% of the charges filed with the EEOC.  The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the state agency that enforces our state civil rights laws published its statistics for 2012. This data showed that sexual harassment charges were approximately 60% of the charges filed regarding sex discrimination and harassment.  These statistics demonstrate that employment discrimination and harassment continue as serious problems for working women.

On the legislative front of women’s rights issues at the federal level, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would strengthen the protections for working pregnant women.  We also need the protections of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity across the country.  But these laws must also be enforced, which means vigilant leadership and restoration of the funding cuts that have undermined the California and federal agencies charged with civil rights enforcement.

Gender-Based Wage Gap – Despite the fact that gender-based pay discrimination has been against the law for over 50 years, women in the United States still face a significant wage gap.  Recently, there has been little progress in closing the gap in wages between women and men.  As of 2012, women’s median earnings were 81% of men’s.  And the wage gap is worse for women of color.  Because women are breadwinners for their families, the impact of wage discrimination is felt across the board.  The Paycheck Fairness Act, pending in Congress, would help fight gender-based pay discrimination

Leaves of Absence – Women are still the primary caregivers in the U.S. and they also often must take time off work for pregnancy and childbirth.  Yet the U.S. lags behind nearly every other country in the industrialized world in terms of how much leave it provides for caregiving, pregnancy and childbirth.  The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides for job-protected leaves of absence for caregiving as well as for pregnancy and bonding leave.  However, the FMLA is unpaid leave and many workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave.  The FMLA also provides no protection for those workers at companies with fewer than 50 employees at or near their worksite, those who have worked for the employer for less than a year, and many who work part-time. Additionally FMLA takes a narrow view of what it means to be a family member, drawing a tight boundary around the nuclear family– parent, child, and spouse.   Grandparents, siblings and other extended family are not included.

The California Paid Family Leave Law, the first of its kind in the country, provides partial wage replacement to workers who take time off to care for family members or bond with a new child.  As of July 2014, California workers will be able to take  paid family leave for a broader group of family members that will include grandparents and grandchildren, siblings, and parents-in-law.

Some federal legislators are already taking the cue from California with a pending bill in Congress to provide paid leave nationally.  They should keep up the momentum and improve the FMLA to extend coverage to more workers and to widen the circle of who is considered “family.”

The United Nations’ theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Equality for Women is Progress for All.”  The global gender gap index shows a strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its economic competitiveness. Given the fact that women are at least half of the potential workforce, a nation’s economic competitiveness depends on how it treats women. Improving the lives of working women will enhance progress for all working families and our national economy.  When that happens, we will all be able to proclaim “Happy International Women’s Day”!

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

Wedding bells ring at West Point

Wedding bells ring at West Point

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS, Reproduction number HABS NY-5708-20-2By Elizabeth Kristen

Now that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the “Defense of Marriage Act” are history, wedding bells are ringing at West Point for same-sex couples. A little over a week ago, Daniel Lennox and Larry Choate III, both West Point graduates, exchanged their vows in the historic West Point Cadet Chapel, following in the footsteps of lesbian couples who married at West Point late last year.

In 2011, the military issued a memo allowing military Chaplains to perform same-sex weddings on and off base.  In August of this year, the military began trying to make it easier for service members to take time off to marry their same-sex partners.  Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the goal of the policy was to “help level the playing field” for same-sex couples. Under the new policy, service members in the continental United States who are stationed more than 100 miles from a place that allows same-sex marriages could take up to seven days off to travel to a place to marry.  Service members overseas can take up to 20 days off for the same reason.  Most important to the new “level playing field,” the newlywed spouse of the service member then becomes eligible for a host of important benefits such as health care, tuition assistance and joint assignments.

Some of the service branches have issued guidelines to make it easier for service members to take advantage of this policy.  The Marines led the way and, more recently, the Air Force has issued directives allowing service members to take time away from work to travel to same-sex marriage states to wed.

The work of equality is not done.  Some service members still report difficulty accessing the leaveTransgender men and women still must hide their true identities or face discharge.  Members of the LGBT community still face discrimination and harassment.  But there is also little doubt now that real change is underway, and allowing service members to marry their same-sex partners is an important step towards the freedom and equality those who serve in our military risk their lives to protect.

 

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

Something to celebrate this Veterans Day

Something to celebrate this Veterans Day

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By Elizabeth Kristen

With the largest population of veterans of any state in the country, California has an extra reason to celebrate this Veteran’s Day.  Just last month, Governor Brown signed a new law that will prohibit employment discrimination and harassment in California based on military and veteran status.

Effective on the first day of 2014, AB 556, sponsored by Assemblymember Salas of Bakersfield, amends the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of military or veteran status or the perception of such status.

Lawmakers were motivated to change the law by the unacceptably high unemployment rates of California veterans.  The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) conducted a survey of their members and found that 24% of them were unemployed.   The Los Angeles Times reported that half of IAVA’s members believed that employers were not open to hiring veterans.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s September 2013 unemployment numbers, veterans who have served in the armed forces since September 11, 2001, have an unemployment rate of 10.1%, compared to a civilian unemployment rate of 6.8%.  Broken down by gender, the unemployment rates show that women veterans have a higher unemployment rate (11.6%) than male veterans (9.7%).  Female veterans also have a higher unemployment rate than female non-veterans (6.5%).

While a number of federal and state laws do specifically address veterans’ employment issues and leaves of absence (see upcoming Blog post on leaves for veterans and military families), having specific state-law employment discrimination and harassment protections for veterans can help in a number of ways.  First, the new law will raise awareness of the serious employment problems facing veterans as employers revisit their employment policies, procedures, postings, and training regarding discrimination and harassment.  Second, veterans who experience employment discrimination or harassment will have access to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the State agency charged with investigating their claims and filing court cases to enforce the law.  Third, adding additional protections to FEHA means that California employment lawyers will become more familiar with representing and advocating on behalf of veterans.

The new law provides protections to any member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces, United States Armed Forces Reserve, the United States National Guard, and the California National Guard.  The bill still permits employers to consider veteran status for purposes of veteran preferences in hiring, a practice encouraged by the Veterans Administration.

As we salute our veterans for their service, let’s also celebrate the great strides the Golden State is making towards full integration of our veterans as they return to our communities.

 

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

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