random robin · womens issues

i am woman, hear me meep

The passing of the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act raises some questions for me about discrimination. The obvious one is around gender and the specific requirements of a job. And the less obvious one is about statute of limitations which I’m not sure I understand in the first place. (And I always wanna say “statue” of limitations like it’s a big woman with a funky crown on her head.)

Read the specifics here http://www.nwlc.org/fairpay/ or on my beloved Wikipedia here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilly_Ledbetter_Fair_Pay_Act

I remember hearing from a friend of mine that while taking the local firefighter test, he found out that female recruits had a different set of standard requirements. For example, they had to lift a full 20 lbs less than their male counterparts, and their fat ratio could be higher. (Well he called it the “fat ratio” and I don’t know what the actual term was.)

I had said that I thought the “fat ratio” was fair enough because it is a scientific FACT that women carry more fat and it would be discrimination to not take that into consideration. Besides, I’ve seen plenty of chubby male firefighters in my day, haven’t you?

But the lifting and running requirements got me thinking. On one hand, my initial reaction was that I wouldn’t want a chick firefighter to have to lift me out of a burning building. But otoh, I thought well what IS the requirement any way and is it fair to say that the X number of pounds a woman can lift is still more than enough in an emergency? Maybe the requirement is still 150 where the male requirement is 170. either way, you should be ok in a pinch, plus you got all that adrenaline working for you.

The larger question that my friend and many of us still wrestle with is the elephant in the room: can a woman really do everything a man can do? Not to mention better?

There are cases like Ledbetter where it seems obvious at first blush. Same position, same level, same number of years, and she is making noticeably less. She got lower evaluations but upon further investigation there was no real cause for that. Her merit increases should have been on par with her counterparts; a percentage is a percentage is a percentage.

As a woman, of course I have this gut instinct that tells me I could do whatever i want, but I don’t want to do certain jobs and I leave the men to it. The point though is that if I take the job and I do the same task, I should be paid the same amount. Right?

And that’s where it gets tricky. Salary has always been this flimsy number, taking into account experience and skills and seniority and so forth. As a recruiter you think how high a number do I need to throw out there to keep this candidate interested and still make our budget? How much is this person really worth?

I know way too many people who pick up a paycheck for sitting at a desk and playing the seemingly endless Mafia Wars app on Myspace. They could tell you what they “really” do for a living and what it says in their job descriptions, but now ask them how much work they did today. Real honest work. About 15 minutes? Including printing up a TPS report cover? What really is work and how do you price it?

The fact of the matter is that many times bosses and potential bosses have all these factors floating around in their heads. And the reason for Acts such as the Ledbetter one is to prevent these bosses from considering factors that are biased and based on preconceived and misconceived notions. I mean, are jobs intrinsically gender-based and where did we come up with such generalizations? To me, it is actually sad we need to state these things in writing and pass into law, but such is the state of um things.

I’d like someone (maybe someone with a law degree) to explain the statute thing. I do understand in criminal cases when the collection of evidence to satisfy burden of proof is limited by the amount of time that has passed since the criminal act itself. Or at least I think I heard that on Law and Order SVU.

Several years ago, past the statute I’m sure, I did actually have a potential supervisor ask me if I planned on getting pregnant any time soon. I realized I could have probably pressed charges but then again, he still offered me the job. I didn’t take it obviously, because I most likely would have killed him with a stapler at some point and that dumb@#! was not worth prison time.

And apparently, there IS a statue …


3 thoughts on “i am woman, hear me meep

  1. Pretty sleepy so there’s no telling how helpful this will be but let me take a stab at the whole statute of limitations thing. I think you’ve probably gotten the basis idea, the s.o.l. says that you have a certain amount of time in which to sue and if you don’t do so within that time period you lose your right to sue. There are different statutes with different time periods for different claims. So, for instance (using fictional numbers for the sake of example), if someone failed to fulfill a contract with you and you wanted to sue them, the statute for a contractual claim might be two years. However, if someone assaulted you and you wanted to sue them for your injuries and so-forth, the legislature might consider assault as something worse than a contractual claim and so they might give you more time to make a claim, five years say. There are also different sol’s for criminal acts, the sol for fraud might be seven years whereas the one for murder is unlimited. So, the first thing to keep in mind is that there are different statutes for different crimes and different claims (“claims” is the word I’m using for the non-criminal side of things–contracts, negligence, nuisance, discrimination; things where the goal of the courts is to try to make you whole by awarding money damages or forcing the opposing party to do something they had promised to do, like sell you a piece of land).

    The next thing to keep in mind is that some crimes or claims are extremely obvious–if you get punched in the nose in a bar fight, you know you’ve been assaulted and there’s a pretty clear date for when the clock should start running on the statute of limitations. Likewise, if your customer has failed in his obligations on a contract, most of the time that will be fairly clear, for instance if they failed to make the July payment or something. But there are other crimes and claims when it’s not so clear-cut when or if they offense took place. For instance, if someone has fraudulently convinced you to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from them, you act in good faith believing his claims and his documentation that he’s the rightful owner and has the ability to sell it to you, it may be some time before you can or should have discovered the fraud. That’s why there is often a Discovery Rule for some crimes and claims–they put the s.o.l. clock on pause until you should have learned of the fraud or whatever. Some Disco Rules pause(technical term is “toll”) until you should have learned, others pause until you actually learn, it depends on the crime/claim and the state (most of these statutes are matters of state law). If the s.o.l. for fraud is five years, you didn’t find out you got ripped off until two years later, under a discovery rule you might have the entire five year period to file suit.

    In the Ledbetter suit, she won her lower court cases but when it got up to SCOTUS, they said that she didn’t file her suit within the 180 day s.o.l. in the fair pay statute and therefore she’s s.o.l. *(the other meaning of it). The new Ledbetter Act makes clear what Congress intended when they initially drafted the law–as long as there is a continuing pay discrimination, the statute of limitations rolls over every pay period, giving the claimant another 180 days to bring suit for the entire discriminatory period, many years in Lilly’s case. The reasoning behind this is that because people don’t always like to discuss how much money they make it can be very difficult to figure out if you’re being screwed or not. This gives you a grace period as long as you’re being screwed but if your employer suddenly starts doing right by you, you’ve got a 180 day deadline to sue for the past discrimination.

    Just to be clear, this type of suit has plenty of hurdles and it’s bullshit when people say that it’s going to result in an avalanche of new lawsuits. As long as management is able to show any alternative reasons for the differences in pay (bad evaluations based in fact) the suit will most likely fail because there must be a high degree of certainty that discrimination was the reason for the wage difference.

  2. that’s right it’s b.s. if a company is discriminating they should have the book thrown at them. and they are s.o.l.!!

    and “Disco Rules?” is that like how tight your pants should be and only wear shiny shirts with rather long collars? haha. i totally heard “you should be dancin’ yeah!” in my head while reading that paragraph!

    thanks G.!! you always deliver the goods.
    have i told you lately that i love you?
    oh wait, wrong decade.

  3. I somehow felt a little called out by the “maybe someone with a law degree” comment! And I like the Van Morrison version of “Have I told You Lately” but the Rod Stewart version leaves me feeling cold and dead inside.

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