Court Allows Wal-Mart to Get Away with it Again

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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court did not find that Wal-Mart routinely discriminates against its female employees. That doesn’t mean that Wal-Mart is innocent. All it means is that the Court refused to hear the case. It seems that the 1.5 million plaintiffs in this class action suit have experiences that are too disparate and don’t show enough commonality to qualify for class action status.

Excuse me? Of course their experiences are disparate: you’re talking about 1.5 million women. And what could be more in common than the fact that they were discriminated against because they were all women?

This is the problem with proving sex discrimination in this country: it happens to women, one at a time, whenever a woman is passed over for a variety of types of promotions: better hours, more hours, positions of greater responsibility, higher pay. But the result is still the same: a woman is denied the opportunities that are routinely offered to men. And she can’t do a damn thing about it.

Because that’s the other thing about sex discrimination: it’s carefully packaged as something else. The discriminators don’t say that all women lack ambition or the requisite managerial skills and personality traits. They don’t say that women don’t work as hard or as long. Instead they pick out one reason and match it to one woman and voilà, it’s not discriminatory policy, it’s the manager’s “informed” opinion. And we all know that every manager is free of sexual bias.

Wal-Mart covers its ass by saying that its policy is equal employment opportunity for men and women, but then allowing its supervisors wide leeway in how they interpret that policy. All a supervisor has to do is show that he had a “valid” reason for promoting a man over a woman and the big wigs at Wal-Mart are satisfied that their non-discriminatory stance is being promoted. They don’t look over their supervisors’ shoulders or second-guess his decisions.

The Supreme Court therefore ruled that since a non-discrimination policy is in place at Wal-Mart, there is no case. Period. Any deviations from that policy are to be handled by Wal-Mart internally. Well, I’m sorry, but I thought the main reason a suit is brought against a company is to get them to do something they aren’t already doing.

The fact that the Court dismissed the complaints of 1.5 million women is an outrage. Does it think these women are delusional? That they all imagined that they were being discriminated against? Surely out of 1.5 million plaintiffs there was enough evidence to warrant hearing the case. Instead, the Justices who voted for dismissal said that there wasn’t enough evidence; only “about 1 [anecdote] for every 12,500 class members.” I’m sure the women could have come up with far more if they’d realized that the Justices were going to consider 120 anecdotes “insignificant.”

The most troubling aspect of this ruling is that it will undoubtedly make it even harder for class action suits to be successful in the future—especially when they’re filed against huge corporations. All the Justices have to say is that the company is too large to hold it responsible for the actions of all its managers.

The women filed a class action suit expressly because it would have been cost-prohibitive for each woman to file a suit against each manager. And why should they when it’s clear that Wal-Mart condones discriminatory practices by its managers by looking the other way?

Maybe we shouldn’t be blaming Wal-Mart for sexual discrimination in the workplace. Maybe it’s actually our society that should be on trial. Because Wal-Mart’s climate exists within a larger system. One in which comments like, “Everyone knows women don’t like to work long hours” are common.

One commenter said that Wal-Mart couldn’t be guilty of sex discrimination because if it was “why would it hire women at all if they’re such poor workers?” Apparently this idiot isn’t acquainted with the practice of hiring people for the “grunt work.” Who better for those positions than women who don’t care about getting ahead anyway?

[Source: New York Times]

Also check out Room for Debate: “A Death Blow for Class Action?

 

The Roles, They Are A’Changing

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I’ve recently had some correspondence with a rabid anti-feminist (see my post “The Equal Rights Amendment: Overdue or Overblown?“). It’s easy to write off his comments as the rants of a troll (Internet-speak for someone who deliberately leaves comments intended to rile up the writer or other readers), but I took him seriously enough to answer him and to write about his comments today. For one thing, he appears to be quite serious about his anti-feminism; when he writes on his Anti Feminism Blog he takes the time to address specific arguments for feminism with counter-arguments that sometimes have some validity to them.

For example, he writes that the gender pay gap exists because women choose to work part-time and take off more time than men do because of their child-rearing responsibilities. In other words, they undercut their own advancement by their lifestyle choices. This is a well-documented phenomenon all over the world. But he refuses to acknowledge that women who are willing to accept the same conditions as men traditionally do are treated as if they are going to suddenly turn into women who would rather stay home with their children, even if they are childless.  They are being stereotyped just as surely as African-Americans are who are typified as lazy.

It’s patently unfair, as well as unrealistic, to assume that just because a job candidate has male genitalia he will be a better or harder or more consistent worker than a woman will be.  The real problem lies with society. Not only do we socialize women to be less ambitious in the workplace, we also make it hard for her to juggle her other responsibilities if she does choose to work outside the home. There is no such problem with men, because they have wives. What women need are wives of their own—or else husbands who will contribute as much to home and child care as they do.

I suspect that anti-feminists who are male (sadly, there are female anti-feminists) resent the perception that they are being asked to do all the changing while women reap the benefits. What they don’t realize is that women who enter the work force have to make a lot of changes, too. In a way it was much easier for both sexes when their roles were strictly defined by social expectations. Now that those expectations are shifting, both men and women are finding themselves lost without a template.

Another thing that anti-feminists fail to see is that it is not just feminists who are calling for these changes. Women who would never identify as feminists are standing up for their right to work at whatever job they choose and to be paid as much as men. They welcome more help around the house and with the children. Anti-feminists blame feminists for the ills of society when in fact it is society that is changing.

And it is not only women who benefit when men conform to the “demands” of feminism. Men are no longer expected to be the sole breadwinner for their families. They’re being given custody of children and alimony more often than ever before. (Shared custody is much more common than it used to be.) They don’t carry the full brunt of being our country’s protectors (i.e., in the military). It has become much more acceptable for men to show their emotions and even to express their “feminine” side. They get to spend more time with their children.

It’s human nature to react with fear and anger whenever we think something we’re used to is being taken away from us. But what anti-feminists need to realize is that they’re gaining much more than they’re losing.

Managing Attention Deficit Disorder at Work and School, Part One

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My sister constantly describes herself as “a hamster running on an exercise wheel.” She swears that she has ADD. Whether she does or not, it’s not surprising that she feels that way. Many women, especially married women with children, are prone to feelings of disorganization, lack of focus, difficulty completing tasks, forgetting to pay bills on time, and missing appointments or deadlines.

The difference is that women with ADD do all these things to the degree that they can barely function. This creates real challenges not only at home, but also at work and in school.

A year ago I wrote the post “If You Have, or Think You Have, ADD.” I intended to write a series of posts about women with ADD, but as is typical for someone who has ADD herself, I forgot. However, I figure it’s better late than never (which is something that people with ADD tell themselves, and others, a lot).

The following are common challenges that women with ADD face at work and in school. (Note: These can apply to anyone who feels overwhelmed by their responsibilities, but they’re particularly troublesome for people with ADD.)

  • Finding it difficult to read large amounts of material.
  • Frequently losing things.
  • Forgetting deadlines.
  • Lack of focus when working in an open space.
  • Having trouble following oral instructions.
  • Managing interruptions.
  • Forgetting names and numbers.
  • Tackling boring tasks.
  • Restlessness (in meetings, in class, etc.).
  • Keeping track of paperwork and email.

To successfully combat these common problems, you have to know yourself. What kind of Attention Deficit Disorder do you have, for instance? There are basically two varieties: ADD with Hyperactivity and ADD, Inattentive. The first is the kind most commonly thought of when people think of ADD. It’s typified by physical restlessness and even acting out. The second is a quieter form of ADD, which means that many people with this type of ADD are not even diagnosed as having it. The person with ADD, Inattentive, is prone to daydreaming and not paying attention in class or meetings.

One of the hardest things for all people with ADD is to stay on task, mainly because they get either bored or distracted.

To keep yourself from being bored, break the task down into short segments and intertwine it with other tasks or activities. In other words, take frequent breaks. But not too frequent! Don’t use this advice as an excuse for giving up on a task before you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time on it.

Distraction is probably the most common problem for a person with ADD. That’s why it’s important to make yourself stick to a task for a set amount of time. Obviously in a class or meeting, the time period is pre-determined and usually feels too long no matter what you do. But somehow you have to make yourself pay attention to everything that’s being said. So how do you do that? I’ll cover some suggestions in “Managing ADD at Work and School, Part Two.”

I’m all for tricks and tips to help you concentrate, but I think it’s important to keep whatever you do simple. When a technique is too complicated, a person with ADD often gets lost in the process. There’s no point in using something that requires more concentration than the material you’re trying to master.

Being easily bored or distracted makes it difficult to get organized. Disorganization is the hallmark of a person with ADD. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be organized. But it’s important to find ways to organize yourself that work for you. Not all people are the same, even all people with ADD. For example, some people have to have complete silence in order to concentrate while others like some kind of  “white noise” to drown out other distractions.

For more background on ADD, especially in women, check out an old blog of mine, ADD Women.

Friday Videos: JK Rowling Speaks on the Benefits of Failure

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JK Rowling gives the commencement speech at Harvard and talks about the fringe benefits of failure.

A Five-Year-Old is My Hero

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This little girl’s parents must be doing something right!

The Paycheck Fairness Act is DOA

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While I was celebrating Eid Al-Adha on Tuesday, the Senate was voting on whether or not to proceed to a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This is called voting on a motion to invoke cloture and is used to end a filibuster. Because cloture requires a two-thirds majority to push it through, it only takes 41 Senators to revoke it. And on Tuesday, that’s exactly what happened.

Since there are only 57 Democrats and two Independents in the Senate now, it would have taken one Republican breaking the ranks to achieve cloture (assuming that the Independents voted with the Democrats). Not only did that not happen, but Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson from Nebraska sided with the Republicans. (Sen. Lisa Murkowski, newly-elected Senator from Alaska did not vote, but since she’s a Republican, it’s assumed that she would have voted along party lines, which would have given the Republicans 42 votes. But even if she would have broken ranks and voted with the Democrats, cloture would still have been rejected 59-41.)

In Great Britain it only takes a simple majority to invoke cloture, but that has been rejected in the U.S. because it’s thought that a simple majority doesn’t do enough to protect the rights of the minority. Silly me: I’ve always been under the impression that in a democracy a simple majority rules. Apparently that’s not the case when it comes to ending filibusters, which is one reason why they’re so hard to end.

Sorry for the civics lesson, but if you’re like me, you find this whole process confusing.

So why would anyone vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act? Because it would put too much of a burden on businesses. In other words, businesses should be allowed not only to pay their female employees less but also to hide the fact that they’re doing so! And people say that there is no more gender inequality in this country.

Another objection to the bill is that it was unnecessary since legislation already exists that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender (although it has yet to be determined if this means that transgendered people are also protected). (Read Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the issue of wage discrimination.) However, the Paycheck Fairness Act includes many provisions that would make it easier to enforce laws that already exist, provide for research and training, and give women the right to sue over discriminatory practices. (At present, they are only able to collect back pay, or double that amount for willful violation.)

Of course, another objection is that the bill would increase litigation against businesses. Again, if businesses don’t want to be sued, then they should pay women and men the same pay for equal work. It’s as simple as that. Maybe it will take a few lawsuits before businesses finally decide that it’s not in their best interests to shortchange their female employees.

Read more here (Huffington Post)and here (Wall Street Journal). Also, see these statistics about the wage gap. You’ll be astonished.