Articles Posted in Gender Discrimination

Ellen Johnston

Dallas Employment Trail Lawyer Ellie Johnston

In the pursuit of professional success and fulfillment, the workplace should be a fair and inclusive environment for everyone. However, the persistent issue of gender discrimination continues to cast a shadow over the career paths of many individuals. In this blog post, we will delve into the nuances of  gender discrimination in the workplace, emphasizing the critical role that legal support plays in empowering victims to stand against injustice and fostering environments that champion equality.

 The Silent Struggle: Gender Discrimination Unveiled

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Like many, I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss following the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Not only did she establish herself as a champion of equal rights for all, but she lived the fight herself. Smart, accomplished, and determined, she chose law school at a time when women were not welcome. During law school, she found herself often demeaned and unappreciated, being asked by the dean himself how she justified taking a seat that could have gone to a man. She would ultimately rise to the highest level of American law, the United States Supreme Court. Among its nine members, there are few who have served with so much distinction.

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Discrimination at work is one of the hottest topics of employment law. There are a number of federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of specific protected characteristics. Almost all of these laws protect not only employees, but also applicants for employment and sometimes even former employees who are retaliated against after their employment ends.

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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that businesses and employers provide nursing mothers with certain accommodations in the workplace. The Act applies to all qualified Texas employees, and if their employers do not offer these benefits, the employer may be liable.

Section 7 of the FLSA (the “Act”) requires employers to provide employees with time and resources to breastfeed in the workplace. The Act mandates employers to provide their employees with a “reasonable break time” to express breast milk for their nursing child for up to one year after the child’s birth. Often, these breaks are referred to as “pumping breaks.”

The amount of time the employer is required to provide must be reasonable, but this will vary as to the frequency and number of times needed. Employers have several options on how to allow their employees this reasonable time. Some have periods of downtime, and they may ask their employees to use that time to express milk. In certain instances, employers allow employees to split shifts to enable employees to leave and express milk. If an employer has a formal policy for nursing mothers, they must adhere to these policies and procedures.

Under both state and federal law, Texas employees are protected from discrimination based on pregnancy and pregnancy-related illnesses; however, that was not always the case.

Originally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin was not interpreted by the courts to include protection for pregnancy and related medical conditions. During this time, employers were able to make decisions based on the fact an employee was pregnant. It was not until over a decade later, with the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) that pregnancy was covered. Since the passage of the PDA, discrimination based “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” has been prohibited because it is considered to be discrimination based on a person’s sex.

Under the PDA, women who are pregnant or are suffering from pregnancy-related illnesses cannot be discriminated against. Common pregnancy-related illnesses include:

Texas isn’t exactly known as a progressive state, and the state’s discrimination laws are no exception. While some state legislatures have passed broad discrimination laws prohibiting the disparate treatment of employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, there is not yet a Texas discrimination law unequivocally protecting individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Earlier this week, however, the United States Supreme Court agreed to consider a case that may significantly limit an employer’s ability to treat employees differently based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda involve the question of sexual orientation discrimination, while R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC concerns discrimination based upon gender identity and sex stereotyping.

The cases present the U.S. Supreme Court with the opportunity to provide LGBTQ employees the protection they have too long been denied. The Court will soon announce when the oral argument will be heard. After the argument, the Court will eventually issue a decision, which will likely be sometime before June of 2020.

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, federal discrimination laws prohibit employers from engaging in discriminatory conduct during employment. This also includes the pre-employment interview process. Employers cannot make a hiring decision based on a person’s age, race, religion, sex, national origin, or disability.

Sometimes, employers trying to gather as much information as possible about an applicant will rely on preconceived notions and stereotypes in doing so.

A few of the problematic questions employers routinely ask are:

  • whether an applicant is married, engaged, single, or divorced;
  • whether an applicant has any children and, if so, how old they are;
  • whether an applicant plans on becoming pregnant;
  • what an applicant’s spouse or boyfriend does for a living;
  • whether an applicant attends religious services and, if so, what days; and
  • the origins of an applicant’s last name.

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Title VII to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made many types of workplace discrimination illegal. For example, Title VII protects against race, sex, and national origin discrimination, among others. In the years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, however, employers continued to discriminate against certain classes of employees, requiring Congress to act to protect these groups.

Thus, Congress eventually passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Still, however, certain groups continue to be discriminated against in the employment setting. Transgender employees are among those who have failed to obtain equal treatment under the law. However, recently, a federal circuit court of appeals issued a written opinion in an employment law case, holding that discrimination based on an employee’s transgender status constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. This is a very important step toward transgender employees having the full spectrum of protection enjoyed by their colleagues.

The Facts of the Case

The case was brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a funeral home employee who told her employer that she planned to transition from a male to a female and would start to wear women’s clothing to work. The funeral home terminated the employee based on a gender-specific dress code policy.

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The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Civil Rights Act) was monumental in that it provided crucial rights to many people who had been denied equal treatment for many years. While the Act prohibited discrimination based on certain bases, other bases were left uncovered. One area of Texas employment discrimination the Civil Rights Act did not solve was pregnancy discrimination. Following the Civil Rights Act, employers continued to discriminate against women on the basis of their pregnancy. When it came time to explain their seemingly discriminatory behavior, employers routinely claimed they were basing their actions not on the sex of the employee (which was prohibited under the Act) but instead on the fact that the employee was pregnant. This was an unfortunate but accepted distinction for 14 years.

In 1978, however, things changed for the better with the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. Technically, the PDA was an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The text of the PDA was short, and the message was straightforward. Essentially, discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, child birth, or related medical conditions” was considered sex discrimination. Thus, an employer could no longer discriminate on the basis of an employee’s pregnant status, since doing so would amount to sex discrimination.

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At the end of 2017, an international movement fighting against assault and sexual harassment began to take hold on social media. The hashtag #MeToo was utilized to illustrate the pervasive presence of harassment and sexual assault – specifically in the workplace. The catalyst for the movement came shortly after allegations were made against Harvey Weinstein, a well-known film producer. While the problem of sexual harassment and assault was only recently thrust into the public light, lawmakers have been taking steps to combat the reprehensible behavior for decades.In 1980, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) began to study the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. Despite significant pressure from women’s advocates and widespread training for employers and employees, workplace sexual harassment is still a pressing issue. According to the EEOC, the Commission receives over 11,000 complaints each year. However, given the realistic threat of retaliation that people face when confronting or accusing perpetrators of abuse and harassment, the number of cases is underestimated.

According to the EEOC, it is illegal to harass any employee or applicant because of their sex. Common forms of Texas sexual harassment include behaviors such as unwanted sexual advances, invitations and requests for sexual favors, and other similar verbal or physical behaviors that are based on a person’s sex. Unfortunately, issues arise when the behavior is considered “teasing” or an off-hand comment, or if it occurs on an isolated occasion.

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