Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Ticking Clock On Pay Discrimination
By Barbara Arnwine

Look around your office. Do you know what your co-workers are really being paid? Probably not. A recent survey found that only 10 percent of companies have pay openness policies. And if you were paid less by your employer simply because you are female how long do you think it would take to find out? Probably not until you’ve been working there a long time, maybe years.

That is exactly what happened to Lilly Ledbetter. Her employer, Goodyear, kept compensation information confidential and it wasn’t until decades after the fact she found out that she was being paid less. By the time of her retirement, she was paid $3,727 monthly, while the lowest paid male doing the same job was paid $4,286. Taking her employer to court, a jury found that she received raises less frequently than her male colleagues because of her gender. The jury awarded her damages for this intentional discrimination, but on appeal to the Supreme Court earlier this year, a majority tossed out the award because Ms. Ledbetter failed to file her claim within 180 days of her employer’s discriminatory decisions – decisions she didn’t have reason to suspect until long after they were made.

Pay discrimination based on gender is a violation of federal law and victims of such discrimination should be able to recover lost wages and perhaps other damages as well. But the Supreme Court has now made it practically impossible for victims to recoup damages when they have been discriminated against.

In order to encourage victims of discrimination to file their claims promptly, the law requires that they file within 180 days of the discriminatory practice. So far, so good. But the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, interpreted the law to mean that the 180-day clock starts when the employer makes the discriminatory decision, not each time the employee receives a smaller paycheck. So, if the employee didn’t learn about her employer’s decision to pay her less when the decision was made, her claim of discrimination will probably be too late, even though the employer continues to pay her less money.

The pattern in the Ledbetter case is not unusual. In a 2002 case, another employee didn’t find out about her employer’s compensation policies until a printout of salaries appeared on her desk seven years after her starting salary was set lower than co-workers. In a 1998 case, the employee found out about salary disparities when she read about them in the newspaper. Unlike discriminatory decisions to hire and fire, compensation decisions are typically confidential. Consequently, it makes more sense to start the clock each time the employer makes a discriminatory payment rather than when the decision to discriminate is made.

Ledbetter was a 5-4 decision in which the conservative majority rejected the consistent position held by most of the lower courts for years. Over 20 years ago, in a race discrimination case, the Court observed that “each week’s paycheck that delivers less to a Black than to a similarly situated white is a wrong actionable under Title VII.” This common sense idea means that if the employee files within 180 days of receiving the discriminatory pay, he or she can have their day in court.

Some argue that the clock should start when a reasonable person would have discovered the wrong, but this vague standard is very difficult to apply in a compensation setting. In particular, employees may learn about pay differences but might not have enough information to suspect discrimination until much later. It’s a cruel joke on the victim if their clock runs out before they even know it started.

Rather than opening the door to such time-consuming disputes, a better approach would be to change the law back to the definition that worked for decades and that has proven to be workable for both employers and employees. As it stands right now the Supreme Court has practically given employers a loophole to discriminate, as long as they aren’t found out in 180 days.

Congress has a lot of difficult issues to deal with when it returns in September – Iraq, immigration, the deficit, on and on. But some problems are easy to solve, if the political will to stand up to the White House and the business community is there. This is one of them.
Arnwine is the executive director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Putting Women Back in the Debate
By Martha Burk

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day. Most Americans don’t even know what it is, and aside from commemorations by a few female leaders on Capitol Hill, it is hardly noticed. But it marks one of the most important days of the last century for women -- the day the final state ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920 -- and women were granted the vote.

That year also marked what suffragists of the time thought would soon be another constitutional milestone, the Equal Rights Amendment. With their newfound franchise, women believed they could convince legislators to put women on equal footing in the Constitution with men (white men from the beginning, black men since passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868). The ERA was penned by Alice Paul, the suffragist jailed for picketing the White House and nearly starved in Occoquan prison outside Washington.

But it was not to be. Here we are, 87 years later—a lifetime in anyone’s book—and women still haven’t achieved equal constitutional status. First introduced in Congress in 1923, the ERA was not passed and sent to the states for ratification until 1972, with an artificial time limit of only seven years for approval by the states. In that brief time it was ratified by 35 states, but was stopped three states short by millions of corporate dollars backing Phyllis Schlafly's anti-woman storm troopers, who feared unisex toilets more than they valued freedom from discrimination.

Most U.S. citizens don’t remember that fight, and many believe the ERA was ratified. The reality is that the legal rights women currently enjoy are not rooted in the Constitution, but in a series of statutes like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, executive orders like affirmative action, and various rules interpreting laws such as Title IX, guaranteeing equal educational opportunity. Because we don’t have an ERA, depending on their origin, all of these can be revoked in the dead of night by any simple majority of Congress, bureaucrats in a hostile administration, or the president himself.

George W. Bush and company know this very well. They have been systematically eroding the gains women have made since they took office. They have weakened Title IX through rule changes. A major one now allows schools to force girls, but not boys, to prove they are interested in participating in sports before they are given the chance to play, and so-called “separate but equal” single sex public schools are allowed for the first time since 1972.

With the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, the assaults on women’s employment rights and legal abortions have begun in earnest. Wasting no time, the Court has already upheld the first federal abortion ban since Roe v. Wade, and severely limited women’s right to sue in cases where they’ve experienced pay discrimination.

Recently renamed the Women's Equality Amendment by its chief sponsor, Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the ERA is the essence of brevity: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." That’s the whole thing. A simple concept that had the blessing of both political parties until the Republicans struck it from their platform in 1980 and the Democrats followed suit in 2004.

It’s high time the ERA was put back in the center of public debate, and this long election season is the perfect opportunity.

Office seekers not remembering that right to vote we’re celebrating on the 26th do so at their peril. Women are now the majority of the electorate, and can control any election. Close to 80 percent of the public, both female and male, favor an Equal Rights Amendment. Candidates of both parties for the Congress and the presidency ought to be listening.
Burk is the director for the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Women Don't Make The Cover

Apparently news and business magazines aren't for the ladies. At least not the covers.

Beverly Wettenstein has a fascinating article on Huffington Post where she tracked the magazine covers of five weekly magazines: Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek and
Time throughout 2006 to see how many covers featured women or were written by them. The numbers aren't good and everyone should check out her article.

If women's presence in the business magazine world and the so-called "serious" newsweeklies aren't seen except for the annual "50 Most Powerful Women in Business" (Fortune) and "Women & Leadership"(Newsweek) issues, then what does that imply about the other 51 weeks?

Wettenstein also suggests that others continue tracking covers for 2007, which is a great idea. Tracking women's presence in media is a good way to see where we aren't.

The National Women's Editorial Forum is also conducting such a study involving the editorial pages of daily newspaper and we also encourage others to help. Simply read your local paper (or papers) and scan its editorial pages. Log onto our website and (after registering to be an editorial page monitor) it will take you to the electronic form. We need monitors to provide information about their paper and the op-eds that are present on its pages. With the Women's Monitor, NWEF will be able to gather data from all over the country about how often women are featured and what they are saying.

---Rachel Joy Larris

Thursday, August 16, 2007

How Gender And Race Affect Media Coverage
of Missing Persons Cases

One of today's banner stories on is actually a pretty good article that compares which missing persons cases receive media coverage (white women, especially those who are young and attractive) with those that don't (men, women of color of any age or level of attractiveness, and everyone else).

The article compares the stories of Stepha Henry, a 22-year-old black woman who disappeared while on vacation in Florida in May, and the well-covered case of Jessie Marie Davis, a 26-year-old pregnant white woman who disappeared from her Canton, Ohio, home in mid-June.
Race, Social Class and Media Coverage

Why does Stepha Henry get less coverage than Jessie Davis?

"The answer is pure unconscious racism," says the Poynter Institute's [Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar]. "But it's not just race. It's also social class and gender."

And the difference in media attention does not go unnoticed.

"There is a huge disparity between black missing women and white missing women when it comes to coverage," [Georgia Goslee, the attorney for Stepha's mother, Sylvia] says. "If Stepha could receive half the coverage of the other white girls who are missing, they might find her."

People of every race and age disappear. But missing minorities, men and the elderly simply don't generate as much media interest.
The article even points out that the cases of missing men go virtually without coverage, as well, whether white or non-white. And the likely reasons for non-coverage of missing men isn't flattering to either sexes.

For 2006, 173,903 missing persons records were entered for adults (21 and older) into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database; 99,736 were men, and 74,167 were women. However, FBI spokeswoman Connie Marsteller refused to draw conclusions from the data, saying because police departments and county sheriff's offices are not required to report missing adults, the information is not complete.

Why do the media - and their audiences - care less about missing men than women? Clark thinks it's because there's a public perception that men can take care of themselves (even though a lot of the missing men might have been victims of foul play).

If a missing person is white, female, young, attractive and has an upper-middle-class background, media coverage of her case will be far more thorough than coverage of missing men, minorities or the elderly, Clark says.

"This taps in to a sort of ancient fairy-tale mentality: the kidnapped princess, the damsel in distress."

So if you aren't the "fairy-tale princess" type, I guess that means you aren't worth coverage? This demeans and degrades the humanity of both the men and women who disappear. It also emphasizes whose lives society tells us to value above others'.

-- Rachel Joy Larris

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Birmingham Blues And Birmingham Strength

Marcy Bloom at RH RealityCheck offers another account about Operation Save America's "Siege of Birmingham" and their attempts to shut down the same abortion clinic that was bombed in 1998 by the terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph.

In Marcy's account, Jeff Lyons, husband of Emily Lyons, one of the victims of Rudolph's bombing, recounts that terrible day:
Jeff Lyons, Emily's devoted husband, showed me the locations where both Emily and Sandy had been standing when Eric Rudolph's hateful bomb detonated in front of the clinic on that January day almost 10 years ago. Sandy was blown apart; in fact, he was decapitated. Blood and body parts were everywhere. It was tough to imagine. Jeff said that for many years, when it rained and the soil of the garden in front of the clinic shifted, pieces of Emily's pink scrubs and Sandy's blue uniform came up though the grass. Reminders of violence and hate linger for a long time in many places and in many lives.
This is part 2 of Marcy's account. You can also read part 1.

--Rachel Joy Larris

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More on Mostly Male Netroots

There’s still a lot of talk in the wake of YearlyKos about the issue of white male bloggers being the loudest voices of the netroots movement.

In addition to my colleague Adele Stan’s take and that of Shireen Mitchell of Digital Sisters, Inc., now syndicated Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman has written about it.

Netroots is mainly for men

Last week, these progressive political bloggers not only attracted 1,200 to Chicago for the Yearly Kos convention, but made it a designated stop for seven out of the eight Democratic candidates.

Nevertheless, there is another, less flattering way in which broadband has followed broadcast and the liberal political bloggers mimic the conservative talk-show hosts. The chief messengers are overwhelmingly men - white men, even angry white men.

I began tracking the maleness of this media last spring while I was a visiting fellow at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. An intrepid graduate student created a spreadsheet of the top 90 political blogs. A full 42 percent were edited and written by men-only, while seven percent were by women-only. Another 45 percent were edited or authored by both men and women, though the 'coed' mix was overwhelmingly male.

Yes, this is the kettle of the MSM - mainstream media - calling the pot of the netroots male. In fairness, half of all 96 million blogs are written by women. But in the smaller political sphere, what is touted as a fresh force for change looks an awful lot like a new boy network.

---Rachel Joy Larris
Preparing a New Generation for Self-Government

By Annette Boyd Pitts

Most Americans do not understand our most basic constitutional principles and are disengaging from civic and political life. Voter turnout, especially among young voters, continues to reflect an indifference to the importance of participation in American democracy.

In December 2005, the Florida Bar conducted a poll of Floridians to determine public knowledge of basic democratic principles. The results reinforced a national poll conducted by the American Bar Association. Fewer than 60 percent of adults could identify the three branches of government, even in a multiple choice test; and less than half understood the concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances.

Even more recently, a national survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found one-third of adult Americans were not able to identify even one of the three branches of government.

Possibly even more troublesome is the latest report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in its Civics Report Card. NAEP is the only congressionally mandated sampling of student achievement in the nation. The 2006 test results which were released this May revealed serious deficiencies among our nation’s students. The 2006 NAEP measured the civic knowledge and skills of 4th, 8th and 12th grade students nationally. The assessment is organized in three main components including civic knowledge, intellectual skills, and civic dispositions. The assessment found:
  • Only 28 percent of 8th graders could explain the historic purpose of the Declaration of Independence.

  • Only 14 percent of 4th graders knew that defendants have the right to a lawyer.

  • Only 22 percent of 8th graders scored at or above the “proficient” level.

  • Only 27 percent of 12th graders scored at or above the “proficient” level.
While there is much to be done to improve student knowledge and skills in civics and government, Florida is making some progress.

As part of a nationwide campaign to advance civics and government in our public schools the Florida Law Related Education Association, Inc. (FLREA) is working with the Center for Civic Education and the Campaign to Promote Civic Education to spearhead efforts in Florida. Together with the League of Women Voters, the Florida Bar, and Common Cause, FLREA surveyed school districts in Florida and found that less than 10 percent requited the teaching of civics and government as a stand alone course in middle school. Middle school became the primary focus of efforts in the Florida legislative campaign last year. In 2006, the Florida legislature passed a requirement for students to take a semester of civics prior to exiting 8th grade.

Standards and testing are two major priorities during 2007 will be for 2008. New standards are being developed for all social studies courses in Florida. The Florida Department of Education has assembled a group of framers and writers to develop standards and benchmarks for all grade levels. Civics and government is one of the subject areas addressed in the standards. A wide range of groups and individuals such as former Senator Bob Graham and former Congressman Lou Frey are spearheading efforts to include civics and government as an FCAT assessment area.

Florida also has a number of programs to assist school districts in meeting the new mandate and strengthen district level civics and government initiatives. FLREA administers the “We the People…the Citizen and the Constitution” curriculum and mock congressional hearing program in each of the state’s 25 school districts. The organization also administers Project Citizen, a companion program for middle school students to actively engage in solving community problems through public policy. Other initiatives in the state include academic competitions, democracy camps, professional development institutes for teachers and partnerships between the judicial and education communities to help to strengthen school-based civic education efforts.

These new public policy initiatives are paving the way for Florida to be in the forefront of the nationwide campaign to advance civics and government in our state’s public schools and to raise this valuable instructional area to its rightful status.
Boyd Pitts is the founding executive director of the Florida Law Related Education Association, Inc. She is the recipient of the National Improvements in Justice Award and has worked in over 20 different countries to advance education for democracy.

    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    Blogging the Yearly Kos Convention - Afterwards

    Diversity at the Yearly Kos (Netroots) Convention

    Guest blogger Shireen Mitchell looks long and hard at the demographics of the blogosphere.

    WASHINGTON, D.C.--With the close of the 2007 Yearly Kos convention, a gathering of bloggers and Internet activists that took place last weekend in Chicago, a vigorous debate was sparked over the convention’s demographics, which, as reported in yesterday’s Washington Post, reveal a largely white, male population. Among the 1500 registered progressive participants in the conference, an estimated one percent was Latin American, about three percent was African American and Native Americans comprised about 0.2 percent.

    In a more perfect world, the blogosphere would represent the diversity of the overall population in order to bring a variety of issues and voices to the attention of our country’s lawmakers. Unfortunately, due to various issues that include, but are not limited to, socio-economic class, education, culture, gender, sexual orientation and other issues that hang up communications in most societies, getting equal platforms to engage these other communities takes more work than many are willing to endure. As a result, you get a blogosphere that reflects the demographics -- predominantly white and male –- that characterize the political conversation in other media.

    Although, when compared with traditional media, the Internet has allowed a more diverse range of voices to be heard, I am not at all surprised of the current demographics of the progressive blogger community. As early adopters of new technologies, it’s white men first and then everyone else. White women usually follow next, then African American men -- at which point more diverse groups emerge. Women of color are usually at the low end of the early adopters.

    In the early years -- when home computers first made their mark -- the demographics of users matched exactly what is happening today in the blogosphere. If, as a woman, you logged on to BBS (bulletin) boards, you were automatically pounced on by all the men, since a woman posting on those boards was such a rare sight. When the Internet was first created, the wave of early adaptors was exactly the same. Today in the blogosphere, this dynamic continues through attacks on women who have something to say and dare to question the ideology of men taking part in the current political debate.

    So I pose a question to those who think the dynamics that play out in our society today could turn to their opposite: If, in the beginning, bloggers were all women of color, would you question the demographics? Or, would you question whether blogging should be considered an important form of participation in democracy, and one in which you should be involved?

    As a woman of color walking around the Yearly Kos convention, I was not surprised at the demographics; this is what I, as an African American woman and part of the past and current digital revolutions, experience in our society every day. Are we really addressing the diversity question? Is it fair to address diversity at one conference if we are not willing to hold up a mirror to our society at large?

    --Shireen Mitchell

    Shireen Mitchell is the executive director of Digital Sisters, Inc.

    Saturday, August 04, 2007

    Blogging the Yearly Kos Convention - Saturday

    Prez Candidates Too Busy for Women Blogger Convention Make it to Where the Boy Bloggers Are

    CHICAGO--Last weekend, as I wrote here, only two of all the presidential campaigns deigned to send representatives to the BlogHer conference, a non-partisan gathering of women bloggers whose organizers had invited all the presidential candidates to either appear before attendees, or send surrogates. The two campaigns whose leaders understood the significance of the gathering were those of Democrats John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, both of which sent surrogates. (Edwards sent his highest-powered representative: his wife, Elizabeth.)

    What a difference less than a week makes. Or perhaps it's the gender of the participants. For here at the Yearly Kos conference -- a gathering of progressive bloggers whose white, male contingent appears to comprise the majority of attendees, all of the Democratic candidates appeared, together on a stage in a forum moderated by Matt Bai of the New York Times Magazine and Joan McCarter of Daily Kos.

    For the record, when the candidates were asked, via e-mail, by blogger John Pontificator if, upon winning the election, they would appoint an official White House blogger, all except Mike Gravel* said they would. (Ravel said he would do his own blogging.) Clinton thought a few seconds before raising her hand, and said, "Why not?" Then Edwards announced: "I will have an official White House blogger, and her name is Elizabeth Edwards."

    --Adele M. Stan

    *Thanks to Cheyanne for fixing my spelling.

    For more on how women bloggers get missed -- and dissed -- by candidates and media, check out Jennifer Pozner's piece at Women's Media Center.

    Blogging the Yearly Kos Convention - Saturday

    Blogging While Female

    CHICAGO--This morning, Garance Franke-Ruta, who blogs at TAPPED and on her eponymous blog, The Garance, conducted a panel called "Blogging While Female," which featured Jessica Valente of Feministing, Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon and Gina Cooper of The Daily Kos. Each of the women addressed the experience they've had with online "trolls" and stalkers, usually men who use the comments sections of blogs to attack women writers, usually in sexualized ways.

    Following an appearance she made on the Web-based TV program, Blogging Heads, Franke-Ruta received, she said, some 57 comments on her blog concerning whether or not she should have worn a barrette in her hair.

    On a far more ominous note, Valente talked about how her Flckr page (a free service that will host your personal photo gallery on the Web) was used by trolls who downloaded photos of her and used them to alter pornographic images, replacing the face of the porn model with Valente's own. She made the point that the difference between online abuse such as this harassment in physical space is that these images will live on, as will keyword phrases that link her name with sexually demeaning terms as they appeared in comments on her blog posts.

    Marcotte, who had a brief and controversial stint as the blogger of the John Edwards presidential campaign, spoke of how one man, who took exception to her inclusion on Pandagon, an "A-list," multi-voice blog, published her home address on the Web, and called her boss to try to get her fired.

    What one calls oneself online often has some bearing on the sort of comments or e-mails one receives. Cooper explained that she has two e-mail addresses through which she takes correspondence on the Kos Web site. One contains her first name -- a decidedly feminine moniker -- and the other does not. She receives far more vicious and sexually threatening messages through the one that features her first name (Gina).

    During the Q&A session, Shireen Mitchell of Digital Sisters, Inc., told us that most states have cyberstalking statutes, but they're either not enforced, or are too specific to address the full range of harassment and taunting that women bloggers often endure. Also, she said, a line about cyberstalking has been added to a new version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

    --Adele M. Stan

    Friday, August 03, 2007

    Blogging the Yearly Kos Convention

    Feminist Bloggers Poised to Combine Resources and Strength

    CHICAGO--Here at the Yearly Kos conference, progressives of many stripes who normally convene in the blogosphere have gathered together in the physical space of the sprawling McCormick Place convention center to learn of the latest trends and create strategies for working together.

    Yesterday, a gathering of feminist bloggers, in a discussion moderated by Tracy Van Slyke of Media Consortium and Jessica Clark of American University, took on the matter of how organizations that advocate for women in media are often unaware of each others' projects and wind up duplicating each others' efforts. Coming on the heels of last week's BlogHer conference, what I'm seeing is an ever-widening circle of women bloggers, reporters and media-reform advocates who gave begun to connect and inter-connect their efforts. When this happens, the ability to coordinate with each other as we strive together to crack the commentary continuum could truly leverage the impact of women in media, both mainstream and not.