In a male dominated workplace, women can be discriminated against because of race, pregnancy, through unequal pay, and so much more. I decided to devote my undergraduate research project to the wage gap, but found racial discrimination to be just as interesting and important along the way.
Many women have overlapping identities that can cause them to be discriminated against because society does not accept their identities. For example, an African-American woman who is lesbian might be discriminated against because of her race as well as her sexual orientation in a male dominated work environment. Courts seem to have a difficult time ruling multiple types of discrimination and often only decide there was one type of discrimination happening, if any.
While doing this research, because I am a journalist, my methodology came from an investigative journalist approach. So I began with government documents. I know you’re saying in your head, “wow how boring” but as a journalist, it’s very important to know how to access government documents. They are accessible to the public, but many people have no idea they can be accessed or how to access them.
I started off with wage gap data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which confirms the differences in earned wages between males and females and amongst race from the 2010 census data. Take a look at the graph below, it’s disgusting. I began comparing the wages of white men to African-American and Latino women.
Shortly after, I found the DeGraffenreid v. General Motors case from 1975 in St. Louis, Missouri. Emma DeGraffenreid, along with a group of African-American women, were fired from General Motors. The company had a “last hired first fired” policy, but fired the African-American women instead of the white woman who was hired after them. Emma DeGraffenreid and the women filed a lawsuit claiming racial and sexual discrimination, which obviously makes sense.
After taking this to court, both claims were reversed. So in other words, the court dismissed both claims of racial and sexual discrimination. These strong women then appealed the court’s decision. The Court of Appeals only upheld sexual discrimination, and dismissed racial discrimination.
This fired me up. Why? Because of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 14th Amendment. Two concrete laws, by that time in 1977, made by the government years before this case. The 14th Amendment says no person should be denied equal protection of the laws. And Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. It doesn’t say “sex, race, color, national origin, OR religion.”
My final analysis and conclusion (which is final as of now even though there is more research to come) decided that courts tend to make an either/or decision. It’s so important to understand that there are multiple forms of discrimination and multiple forms can happen to a single individual.
It seems that multiple forms of discrimination are rarely upheld, and in this case both were denied in the first hearing. It looked as if General Motors and the court simply wanted to play the sexist card instead of the racist one. My next research step will focus on the dismissal of discrimination claims regarding women’s voices being unheard, stay tuned!
Recently in government:
The Department of Labor proposed guidance to assist federal agencies in the implementation of Executive Order 13673, Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces, which was signed by Obama in 2014. This Order requires violations of labor laws to be reported to Labor Compliance Advisors and contracting officers. The advisors and contracting officers then have to assess the reported violations and figure out the degree of the violation depending on whether or not it is serious, repeated, willful or pervasive. If the violation is defined as one these reasons, the advisor will then work with the violator to bring them into conformity of the law.