Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Newsweek, YouTube and An Abortion Mini-Doc

Anna Quindlen’s column for Newsweek, How Much Jail Time?, spotlights a pretty cool little mini-documentary about abortion protestors in Libertyville, Illinois.
Buried among prairie dogs and amateur animation shorts on YouTube is a curious little mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill. The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It's as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: "I've never really thought about it." "I don't have an answer for that." "I don't know." "Just pray for them."

You have to hand it to the questioner; he struggles manfully. "Usually when things are illegal there's a penalty attached," he explains patiently. But he can't get a single person to be decisive about the crux of a matter they have been approaching with absolute certainty.

Now Quindlen’s column is focused on abortion (and I urge people to read it), but I found it baffling that the online version of her column didn’t even include a link to the featured clip! In this day and age there’s no excuse for that bit of oversight. (Update: They have added the link).

Fortunately Real Women, Real Voices has tracked down the clip. I agree with Quindlen, it’s a pretty fascinating mini-documentary running six and half minutes.

You can find the clip on YouTube here.

But I wanted to know more about who made and it and why, so I e-mailed the creator, Lee Goodman. It turns out the clip has a pretty long history, it was posted online on July 11, 2005, and is part of a pre-YouTube group that provides videoblogging and commentary. Lee says his website has been in operation since 2005 and he’s now posting his videos on YouTube as well as his website. A nice feature of his At Center Network website is that he offers low-bandwidth downloads.

As I discussed earlier in regardless to the digital divide, people who only have access to dial-up and low-bandwidth—and there are plenty—are essentially locked out of the YouTube revolution.

Lee said the original clip, as featured on his website, had been discussed by blogs before. But, without his permission and without him knowing, someone posted it to YouTube, where Quindlen found it. He said on Sunday a friend of his recognized from Quindlen’s column the description of his clip, which alerted him to the fact it even was on YouTube! After that, Lee said he did get in touch with Quindlen who related that they didn’t link to the video because they couldn’t verify the author. (However Lee has now put up the video on YouTube yesterday under his own name and asked the other poster to take down theirs.)

The clip itself depicts abortion protestors in Libertyville, Illinois on July 9, 2005. Lee said he wanted to clear up one misconception, the group was not actually protesting an abortion clinic—they were just demonstrating on the side of a road, but not by a clinic.

I asked him how he came film the protestors and how he got the idea of asking them what they thought should happen to a woman if she had an illegal abortion? Lee said he lives in nearby Northbrook and has been recording many different types of events, which includes interviewing participants. He said he stumbled upon the question because it was the only one that seem to provoke real thought from his participants.

“I didn’t set out to ask that question,” he said. “I set out to see what was going on. But I found that that was one question I wasn’t getting back pat answers…it was the one people were struggling to answer.”

He said most of the other questions he posed to the protestors tended to get the same kind of flat rhetoric. This question, he said, “engendered on all sides a soulful, deep and thoughtful discussion.”

“Whenever I cover an event I always ask ‘why are you here and what are you hoping to accomplish?’ My practice in interviewing people is to draw answers out of them and not only hear what they think I want to hear about.”

The other nugget I found from talking to Lee is that from the original posting some of the protesters responded in the comments including the protest organizer Joe Scheidler, whom the final woman featured suggest Lee talk to. (In fact Lee said he’d already talked to Scheidler by that point, but didn’t ask him that particular question because, at that time, he hadn’t realized it was the question that got the most interesting response.)

The clip is an excellent example of either citizen-inspired activism or journalism; however one chooses to look at the product.

---Rachel Joy Larris
Ending the Housing Crisis for People With Disabilities

By Lisa LaBrecque

In 1971, the U.S. Congress created the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The noble goal of the program was to provide financial support for people who can’t work because of a significant, long-term disability.

Unfortunately, our country has failed to meet that goal. According to a report recently released by the Technical Assistance Collaborative called Priced Out in 2006, national average rents for both one-bedroom and efficiency apartments were more than the entire monthly income of an individual relying solely on SSI. About 3.5 million people in the U.S. rely on SSI as their sole source of income. Here in New Mexico, the average SSI payment is $603 a month. That means an individual in New Mexico who relies solely on SSI has to spend 77 percent of his income on an efficiency apartment or 88 percent of his income on a one bedroom apartment. That leaves only about $100 a month to pay for food, medical care, clothing, transportation and utilities. SSI is not easy to obtain. The federal government uses a rigorous application process to screen applicants, including medical verification of a disability. People who receive SSI truly are some of our most vulnerable citizens. We have a moral obligation as a society to ensure that people with disabilities can afford decent housing and other basic necessities. Yet, we have made a half-hearted attempt to meet this obligation.

An individual whose sole source of income is SSI lives on $7,584 a year—which is 25 percent below the federal poverty line. At the same time, funding for affordable housing programs has been slashed. In particular, two of the most important federal programs for people with disabilities—the Housing Choice Voucher Program and the Section 811 Supportive Housing Program for Persons with Disabilities—have received inadequate funding over the last several years.

Under these conditions, we are practically forcing many people with disabilities into homelessness. Yet, we can do something about this grave problem. First, Congress can raise the SSI benefit level so that someone living solely on SSI is living above the poverty line. Secondly, Congress can fund an adequate supply of affordable housing for people with disabilities.

In their report, the Technical Assistance Collaborative urges the federal government to reinvest in the Housing Choice Voucher Program and the Section 811 program and create 150,000 new units over the next 10 years for people with disabilities. There is now a federal proposal that would target affordable housing dollars to households with disabilities who are living far below the poverty level.

We can also take action at the state level by providing adequate, consistent funding for the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund. Despite the Governor’s promise to secure $15 million for the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund in the 2007 legislation session, the Fund only received $2 million. This falls far short of what we need to create an adequate stock of affordable housing in New Mexico. In addition, we need to make sure funds from the Trust Fund are used not just to develop homes for purchase, but also to develop high quality rental housing. A person who only receives $603 a month will probably never be able to buy a house. But he or she still deserves a safe, accessible, affordable and decent apartment.

Congress had the right idea when they created the SSI program in 1971. Now is the time to follow-up on that promise and ensure that people with disabilities have the same standard of living that everyone wants for themselves and their families.
LaBrecque is the policy and advocacy director for the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Getting Blogged at the BlogHer Conference

Candidates to women bloggers:
Wish we could be there; have a nice conference

CHICAGO--You would think that all of the presidential candidates, Republican and Democrat, would be interested in talking to a gathering of women bloggers from across the U.S. After all, it's said the women's votes will ultimately decide who the next president will be. Lisa Stone, BlogHer's CEO, said that all the candidates were invited to either appear or send surrogates. But as far as anyone could tell, only Hillary Clinton and John Edwards sent surrogates. Clinton sent Dana Singiser, her women's outreach coordinator, while Edwards sent campaign blogger Tracy Morris along with a real powerhouse of a surrogate, his wife, Elizabeth, who happens to be a longtime blogger.

Among the more interesting sessions I attended at BlogHer was the one titled: Patriots Act: How to Turn Your Blog into a GOtV (Get Out the Vote) Machine. There Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), was joined Liza Sabater of Culture Kitchen, Sarah Simmons of the John McCain campaign, and Zephyr Teachout, who had served in the 2004 election as Howard Dean's director of online organizing discussed ways of motivating your particular online community to turn out at the polls.

One way: add a "badge" or button to your blog that links directly to voter registration forms or info.

More politics coverage later.

--Adele M. Stan

Friday, July 27, 2007

Getting Blogged at the BlogHer Conference

What do you stand for?

CHICAGO--Here at the BlogHer conference, one of the operative words is "brand." While policy-based and mainstream political media have been notoriously slow to welcome women into their commentary continuum*, the masterminds of corporate brands see the dollar potential of the greater female blogosphere -- the part that includes the self-described "mommy bloggers," make-up bloggers, sex bloggers, as well as feminist bloggers, political bloggers and business bloggers. If it's specific to women, there's money in it, since women make more day-to-day purchasing decisions than men. Among the sponsors of the BlogHer conference are General Motors, AOL, Butterball turkeys, Dove cosmetics, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Windows Live (a sort of social networking software package).

But the brands aren't just corporate. In fact, brands are people, too. Women, to be specific -- women bloggers, that is. And they packed to overflow what appeared to be the most popular opening break-out session: The Business of You: Self-branding and Self-promotion. Moderated by Penelope Trunk of The Brazen Careerist, who was joined by panelists Nina Burokas, a digital branding expert, and Stephanie Cockerl, entrepreneur of a successful Web-design site, the session was jammed with women who blog on everything from knitting to radical feminism (sometimes in the same blog).

Penelope Trunk let on that, when she first started blogging, she tried to maintain separate identities -- one for the name she was given at birth, and one for the self-created character, Penelope Trunk. "Penelope Trunk was more the person I wanted to be," she explained. As time went on, she found she couldn't really keep the two identities separate, so, "I ditched my [given] name and became Penelope Trunk."

As for posting about knitting and politics in the blog, Nina Burokas contended that it's not really a good idea. Well, actually, she said, don't do it. "You can't blog about politics and knitting" and have a successful blog, she said. (We at the National Women's Editorial Forum politely ask, as you make your choice: "May we suggest politics?") Try telling that to the women in the category who describe themselves as "junk-drawer" bloggers.

Stephanie Cockerl perhaps put it most succinctly. She asked: "What do you stand for?"

--Adele M. Stan
The Digital Divide: Getting Access To The Debate

Now that some of the dust has cleared from the CNN/YouTube debate there have been some thoughtful reactions to CNN’s staging of the debate. Jennifer L. Pozner’s WIMN’s Voices has an extremely interesting reflection video by independent media producer Stephanie Mackley, better recognized as the woman who asked about energy consumption in her bathroom.

Some of her responses are both informative and insightful – she susses out more information regarding the ratio of women-submitted videos and realizes that the initial reaction to being on TV made her (temporarily) lose sight of the fact that Anderson Cooper completely misdirected her question from a policy discussion to one of personal responsibility.

But one important thing Mackely notes is that she’s hardly a veteran of video-blogging. As she states:

The thing I’d hope you’d take away from this is that you can have a huge impact on the media discussion with relatively little effort. I posted my very first video a month ago and have since seen it on CNN as a question posed to the Democratic presidential candidates. So it’s not as difficult as you would think to add your own voice to the public debate that we’re having about the presidential candidates right now or any political topic. And you might end up influencing the debate in ways you would never imagine.
It’s good to remember that commentary isn’t divided into “experts” and “novices” – even in blogging. The technical aspects of providing commentary however probably can seem daunting, whether its putting up a blog or posting something to YouTube.

I meant to point people to this article in the Washington Post a few days ago. Binary America: Split in Two by A Digital Divide which discusses the fact that a few miles from where the debate was staged existed a place where residents could only access the internet, let alone high-speed access, with great difficulty.
There exists "two Americas," as John Edwards, South Carolina's own son, likes to say: an America for the rich and an America for the poor. But what Edwards and the rest of the presidential field have yet to adequately address are the two Americas online: one that's connected to high-speed Internet -- socializing, paying bills, uploading debate questions to presidential candidates on YouTube -- and one that's not. This is the digital divide, now more than a decade old, a rarely discussed schism in which the unconnected are second-class citizens. In some parts of this so-called Internet ghetto, the screech of a telephone modem dialing up to get online is not uncommon. And with dial-up, YouTube is impossible to use.
The digital divide is practically ignored as a political issue.

And though a study released last month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that broadband use among African American adults increased from 14 percent in 2005 to 40 percent this year, blacks continue to lag behind whites and English-speaking Latinos. In fact, a great number of American households , especially in rural areas and poorer parts of cities such as Charleston, are without broadband.
"At one level, the YouTube debate shows that the Web has really become a centerpiece of American political culture," adds Lee Rainie, director of Pew Internet. "At another level, it also shows that the debate is not for everybody. It's certainly not available to all Americans."
And since the internet is sometimes assumed to be the domain of the young, what will happen if young people grow up with much access? Will they then fall behind their more technologically advanced peers, the kind who have home computers and high-speed connection. That’s why the story about 14-year-old Tiara Reid struck me.
That is especially true at Cooper River Courts, where Tiara Reid, 14, in her jeans shorts and pink striped top, runs up and down the complex asking friends if anyone wants to go the library. Finally her mom, Jossie, who works at a deli, drives her and a neighbor's daughter. With school out and without Internet access at home, the library is the only place where she can go on the Web -- for a maximum of two hours a day. Says Tiara: "It's 10 minutes to get to the library if someone drives you. It's 15 minutes if you take the 30 bus. It's about 30 minutes if you walk."
Sure, she knows how to use e-mail and MySpace, but she’s clearly at a disadvantage because she is not acquiring the same comfort levels with the internet that other children are. And because the internet is such a resource, those who only get it in minimal levels really are deprived of information that is useful, everything from greater access to media to more information about their public schools.

--- Rachel Joy Larris

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Not All Issues Are Colored In Pink

Ruth Marcus’ column in today’s Washington Post epitomizes the need for efforts such as those undertaken by the National Women’s Editorial Forum. Women as a whole really lose out when there aren’t female voices in the editorial pages…or on the campaign trail.

Marcus’ column is on Hilary Clinton, Pretty Formidable in Pink, but I think her take on even writing about candidate Clinton speaks to why sometimes a dearth of women’s editorial voices means that if there’s only one woman on an editorial board it can mean, by default, you get to write the “women issues” while men get to write about everything else.
But as a columnist who happens to be a woman -- you may have noticed, there aren't too many of us -- I understand what [Elizabeth] Edwards means. In fact, I initially resisted writing about her comments, reluctant to be pigeonholed as a "woman columnist" and not taken seriously by the Big Boys.
There was some anger directed at the Post over a fashion column last week by Robin Givhan which focused solely on Hilary Clinton’s cleavage. Ms. magazine even sent out an e-mail asking people to write to the Post:
Women politicians' clothes, hairdos, weight, and other physical characteristics have been the obsessive focus of journalists ever since women first began holding public office in this country. We've had it!

Let the Washington Post know that sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton or any women politician is unacceptable.
Without a concerted effort to call attention to their coverage major media organizations won’t even be aware how they treat women politicians and women voters’ concerns differently from men’s. When editorial boards should beging to show a more equitable balance between men and women (instead of a sometimes token one or two). Its not enough diversity to have one token female voice on an editorial board (or a news room or a campaign bus or a cable TV show) to provide a “woman’s perspective” on femaleness and politics. Such lack of diversity can end up limiting the sole female voice to a virtual ghetto, deigned only fit to comment on supposed female-centric topics. Women make up 50 percent of the planet and there’s no reason we can take up 50 percent of an editorial board either.

--- Rachel Joy Larris

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

YouTube Debate: Men Ask the Questions

Last night, the Democratic presidential candidates faced off in a forum that featured questions submitted by regular folks, in video format, via YouTube.

A few days ago we urged women to submit questions to YouTube for the debate because the numbers of women-submitted questions was pitifully low. (If you missed the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate last night it can be found here on YouTube.)

I don't know whether YouTube received a last-minute rush of submissions by women, nor do I have a count of the final tally of the submitted videos broken down by the ratio of men versus women.

But I do have the number of questions CNN picked that featured women: eleven. Out of the 42 viewer-submitted videos aired by CNN, 30 featured men speaking and only 12 featured women. (There were 39 questions but one question, #33 showed four clips, two women and two men.)

The questions women were shown asking: question #7 on race and class being a factor in the Katrina disaster, #9 on gay marriage, #13 a mother asking how many soldiers have to die in Iraq, #19 a young woman asking the candidates to name their favorite teacher, #22 a Planned Parenthood worker from Pennsylvania asking whether the candidates talk to their kids about sex, #25 about energy consumption by the U.S., #27 about whether they would work for minimum wage, #29 a quick one on paying Social Security to those earning over $97,500, #33 featuring two women and two men asking health care-related questions and, lastly, #34 a woman asking, she said, on behalf of "friends," about whether their health care plans would include undocumented workers.

Among the 28 video questions posed by men were three that focused specifically on women. In question #8 a man asks Obama and Clinton to comment about being asked if they are black enough or female enough. In question #15 a man asked if the candidates felt a woman should have to register for the draft when she turns 18.

Question #16 shows a man serving in the military asking Senator Hillary Clinton whether she would be taken seriously by the leaders of Arab and Muslim nations. I transcribed the man's video in full. Here is the text of his question:

Hello, my name is John McAlperin. I'm a proud member of the United States military and I'm serving overseas. This question is to Senator Hillary Clinton: The Arab states and Muslim nations believe [in] women as being second-class citizens. If you're president of the United States, how do you feel that you would even be taken seriously by these states in any kind of talks negotiations or any other diplomatic relations?

I feel that's a legitimate question.
I wonder why CNN picked this question. It's not as if nations other than ours -- even Muslim nations -- have never had a female head of state. Pakistan had a woman prime minister as did the Muslim nation of Bangladesh. India, home to one of the world's largest Muslim populations, just elected its first woman president. (In the mid-20th century, Indian politics was dominated by the figure of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.)

UPDATE: Jennifer L. Pozner on WIMN’s Voices offers her take on the debate formatting, particularly the example of Stephanie Mackley, the woman who posed a question about energy policy to the candidates from her bathroom.

---Rachel Joy Larris
Minimum Wage Raise Is No Worry For Business
By Lya Sorano

In Georgia, one of the reddest of the "Red States," one might expect an almost universal denouncement of the raise in the minimum wage. In fact, the opposite is true.

Business owners and managers I've spoken with aren't concerned. They're glad the minimum wage is going up because workers deserve it, and they believe it will help our local economy.

The $5.15 minimum wage has been in effect for a decade -- the longest period without a raise since the minimum was established in 1938. Georgians covered by the federal minimum wage saw their hourly pay rise to $5.85, on July 24, 2007. It will increase to $6.55 on July 24, 2008 and $7.25 on July 24, 2009.

Those increases are lower than they seem. The minimum wage has lagged so far behind inflation that even at $7.25 the minimum wage will still be lower than it was in 1956 when it was $7.65 in today's dollars.

Tony McBride, general manager of Cracker Barrel on Highway 53 in Braselton, said his employees who are not servers are paid "well above the minimum wage." He added, "We start them at $8.00 an hour."

Theresa Meadows, general manager of Jeffrey's Sports Grille in Braselton, says their employees are paid minimum wage during training, "but that is only 20 hours" before they get a raise.

BB Webb, owner of Carl House in Auburn, believes a minimum wage increase is one of the changing economic conditions business owners need to build into their business plans. Absorbing a minimum wage increase, she said, is "just a part of being a good citizen." And a good businessperson. Webb says the raise will have a positive effect on the local economy, which would be especially beneficial for businesses serving lower-income markets "because their customers would have more money to spend."

States that have already raised their minimum wages above the $5.15 federal level have had better employment and small business trends than the other states, according to reports by the Fiscal Policy Institute and other research organizations.

According to Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, "Higher wages benefit business by increasing consumer purchasing power, reducing costly employee turnover, raising productivity, and improving product quality, customer satisfaction and company reputation.”

"A fair minimum wage is a sound investment in the future of our communities and our nation," concludes the statement, which I endorsed at Business For a Fair Minimum Wage along with hundreds of businesspeople nationwide, including the owners of many Georgia businesses including Morning Glory Farm in Clermont, North Georgia Woodworks in Toccoa, and Sugar Magnolia B&B, Flyer Candy Bars, Simply Web and Grand Central Pizza in Atlanta.

Georgia's poverty rate is higher than most other states. A minimum wage that keeps workers in poverty hurts our communities and our state.

Our elected officials should raise the state minimum wage above its meager $5.15 level so that all workers, whether covered by state or federal law, get a long overdue raise.
Lya Sorano is the founder of Atlanta Women in Business and chief executive of the Oliver/Sorano Group, a marketing and public relations firm.

This article has also run in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Turning Down The Heat On Abortion Clinic Protests

(Click here to listen to a Public Service Announcement distributed by American Forum on how the locality of abortion clinics puts them at a higher risk to violence and harassment.)

It’s the sweltering heat of summer. We can count on seeing ads for escapes to the beach, reminders to wear sunscreen, and the extreme anti-reproductive rights, homophobic Operation Save America's annual attempt to turn up the political heat by mounting a media-circus demonstration at a high-profile women's health center that provides abortions. This summer from July 14 to 22, the target-of-choice is the New Woman, Every Woman Healthcare Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.

If the location and clinic name ring a bell, there’s good reason. In 1998, Eric Robert Rudolf detonated a firebomb of dynamite and nails at the clinic’s front door, killing police officer Robert “Sandy” Sanderson on his beat and seriously wounding clinic nurse Emily Lyons. In addition to sustaining first, second, and third degree burns covering the front of her body, Lyons lost her left eye and her right was seriously damaged. A hole the size of a fist was blown in her abdomen and her left leg was shattered—just for starters.

There's something else we can count on too during these heated summer encounters. The doctors and women's health groups subject to these demonstrations, along with their allies in pro-choice organizations such as NOW and the Feminist Majority that flock to defend women from OSA's intimidating harassment, will be joined together with their adversaries in the Kabuki theater of irreconcilable opposites locked into predictable but intractable battles. The only way to stop the Kabuki dance that resolves nothing is for the community around all of these players to decide enough, stop, we're changing the story. Three groups bear a special responsibility to cool things down.

Community leaders of good conscience, regardless of where they stand on the abortion issue, must see themselves as part of the story, whether they want to be or not. It is they who must set the standard for what constitutes freedom of speech versus what constitutes harassment, intimidation, possible incitement to violence, and definite interference with providing and receiving health care services. Do not accept these demonstrations as just normal free speech because they are most certainly not, neither in intent nor practice. Give groups like OSA their platforms for expression to be sure, but not at a location where women can be hurt—and especially not a place where their own allies have killed and maimed in the past.

Every city council should pass two resolutions: one to set a tone of civility and the other to establish alternate ways for dissenters (and they are dissenters—fully two-thirds of Americans want abortion to remain legal and safe) to express themselves away from the health care facility. And there must be zero tolerance for violence against the women, the doctors and other staff, or the facilities. That’s terrorism, plain and simple. Name it and confront it.

Clergy, regardless of where they stand on abortion, must join hands preemptively, before the demonstrations start, and declare their own open microphone day to decry violence and intimidation of women. Pro-choice clergy have an especially important role to publicly support the women who are making decisions they believe as fervently are moral and responsible ones as their detractors scream are otherwise. Pro-choice people of faith need to create a supportive welcome to the women and courageous staff and volunteers by their public words and deeds.

Clinics are vulnerable to violence and harassment precisely because they are isolated from the rest of medical practice. And how ironic it is that these very same clinics are so often women’s main source of medical care, in particular family planning services that prevent unintended pregnancy and abortion. So the medical community has a role to play too. Abortion should be defined and practiced as part of women's health care, and that would in itself diffuse much of the confrontation.

It’s the heat of summer. Time to go to the beach slathered in sunscreen. Time to take a new look at an old story and cool down the script so that our passion can be spent not on fighting intractable battles but on assuring that women have the health care, information, and social supports to make their own childbearing decisions without fear.
Gloria Feldt is the author of The War on Choice: the Right-wing Attack on Women’s Rights and How to Fight Back and former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She frequently lectures on the history and future vision for reproductive rights, health, and justice.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Supreme Court Decision Jeopardizes Pay Equality

By Lisa Grafstein

You get your first paycheck at a new job and, not one to be shy, you ask the coworker in the next cubicle how much he makes. It turns out you are making fifty cents less per hour doing the same work. Do you literally make a federal case out of it? Under the Supreme Court’s decision this term in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, maybe you should. If you don’t, you may be forever barred from claiming pay discrimination, no matter how much you may have lost in wages over time.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Using Title VII, employees may challenge workplace discrimination, including pay discrimination. Since the Supreme Court’s 1986 unanimous decision in Bazemore v. Friday, it was understood that pay discrimination occurs each time an employee receives a paycheck that reflects a discriminatory pay structure. In Bazemore, employees brought race discrimination claims based on pay disparities that had begun before the enactment of Title VII, and continued after the enactment. The Court rejected the argument that the plaintiffs could not sue because the discrimination began before Title VII because “[e]ach week's paycheck that delivers less to a black than to a similarly situated white is a wrong actionable under Title VII.” The “paycheck rule” recognized that pay discrimination is not a single, distinct act like a firing or refusal to hire; rather, it is often hidden and cumulative.

In the 5-4 Ledbetter decision, the Court rejected the ‘paycheck rule’ and determined that a case for pay discrimination under Title VII must be brought within 180 days of the discriminatory pay decision. In Ms. Ledbetter’s case, that meant that the pay discrimination she was unaware of during the first 18 years of her employment, and that resulted in her eventually making about 75 percent of what her male coworkers made, would not be remedied, even though it affected her pay every week.

After Ledbetter, Title VII no longer provides a real remedy for pay discrimination. Even when an employee discovers discrimination in time, small pay differentials would rarely be enough to cause her to take action. As Justice Ginsberg stated in her dissent, “[s]mall initial discrepancies may not be seen as meet for a federal case, particularly when the employee, trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment, is averse to making waves.” Yet, even minor disparities will increase exponentially over time. By the time the difference is significant, the time for pursuing a remedy will have passed.

We all know the statistic that women make 70 cents for every $1 a man makes. What makes this statistic hard for many of us to understand is that we simply do not believe that an employer would start two employees out on the same job at such disparate wages. The reality is that the gender gap in pay—for individuals or women as a group—was not created overnight; it is the result of incremental, compounded differences over time.

The Court has imposed an unrealistic interpretation of Title VII. If the Supreme Court is unwilling to interpret Title VII in the context of the real workplace, Congress must take steps to correct the Court’s unworkable interpretation. Some members of Congress have vowed to repair the loophole the Supreme Court has created in Title VII, and undo the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the statute.

As Justice Ginsberg noted in her dissent: “Once again, the ball is in Congress’ court.”

Grafstein is a private practice attorney in Raleigh.