Gender Discrimination

by Jocelyn Campbell, Esq.

If you have a daughter (I have four), I’ll bet that she is beautiful, smart, successful and an all-around great kid… wait a minute, let’s go back to “successful”.

You have raised her to believe that she can do anything from having babies to becoming a corporate CEO.  However, you may have neglected to mention that, no matter how hard she works, chances are that she will never earn as much money as her equally qualified male counterparts, she may experience a reduction in pay during her child bearing years, or be denied certain advancement opportunities throughout her career.

Gender discrimination in the workplace manifests itself in many ways.  It is often subtle and not discussed by employees.  It may include unequal compensation, failure to advance, or a stalled career during the child bearing years or as a result of maternity leave.  Gender discrimination falls under the category of sexual harassment, but does not usually involve sexually related acts.

According to an article written by Rebecca Traister for the New Republic, dated February 3, 2015, not only are more women having babies at the peak of their careers, but American women’s earnings decrease by four percent (4%) for each child postpartum.  On the other hand, men enjoy an average six percent (6%) increase in pay and are more likely to be hired if they are also fathers.  Ms. Traister also cites research indicating that eighty percent (80%) of all women do not get paid for a single day of their maternity leave.

Gender discrimination is prohibited under both State and Federal law. The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in the hiring, firing, compensation, or other terms or conditions of employment. The law covers the conduct of employers, labor organizations, or employment agencies. M.G.L. c. 151B, § 4(1). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal counterpart, is similar in scope. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e.

Those who have been discriminated against may file a claim under several statutes.  According to the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), M.G.L. c, 151B and the Federal Pay Act, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she was (1) paid less for equal work, and (2)  as qualified as their male or female counterpart. Employers can defend the claim by showing that their payment of greater compensation was based upon seniority, production, merit or other factors.  The employer’s failure to so demonstrate may result in a substantial damages award to the plaintiff.

I am fortunate to work in an environment where gender discrimination is not tolerated; but others are not so fortunate. I was curious and asked some friends and family members whether they had ever experienced gender discrimination.  To my surprise, several responded, wanting to tell their stories.

My cousin in Alaska wrote and said that she has worked as an airplane mechanic for many years.  She always assumed that she was paid the same salary as her fellow workers.  After her husband passed away, she married a co-worker – a man with the same title and level of experience.  She was shocked to learn that he was earning $6,000 per year more than she was.

A friend wrote that she works at a life science company and had recently learned that a male counterpart, with the same level of education (MBA) and less experience, was earning $20,000 more per year than her.  Ironically, she discovered this a few months ago when she was promoted and became his boss.

Maternity leave is obviously an important related issue.   According to Ms. Traister’s article, some countries such as Russia, Lithuania and China have guaranteed paid maternity leave, while the United States has none.  As a result, many women experience stalled careers, reduction in pay and difficulty balancing their employment commitment with that of their new baby.   Many companies are now offering paid or longer maternity leave and the option to work from home during those early months.  Unfortunately, we cannot rely upon companies in the private sector to address gender discrimination – a systemic problem that has grown over decades.

If you believe that you have suffered gendered discrimination, please call and let us analyze your claim and advise you of your rights and remedies.


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