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Why Celebrate Women's History Month?

Let's look at the history. For over a century women have been in the forefront, struggling and strategizing for fair treatment in their public and private lives. Spent stress-filled, anxious hours envisioning a day when they would enjoy the rights all Americans should have.

Persistent efforts paid off. Landmark decisions have been handed down regarding the right to vote, equal educational opportunities, birth control, domestic violence and consumer credit practices.

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The struggle to end discrimination in the workplace however has been a seemingly insurmountable saga. In 1961 President Kennedy established the President's Commission on the Status of Women chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. The Commission issued a report in 1963 documenting substantial discrimination against women in the workplace. The recommendations included fair hiring practices, paid maternity leave and affordable child care that led to:

  • 1963 - Equal Pay Act. Title VII bars discrimination on the basis of race and sex.

  • 1968 - EEOC ruled sex-segregated help wanted ads in newspapers are illegal. Women can apply for higher paying jobs previously only open to men.

  • 1970 - Schultz v. Wheaton Glass Co. - U.S. Court of Appeals ruled employers cannot change job titles of women workers in order to pay them less than men

  • 1974 - Corning Glass Works v. Brennan - U.S. Supreme Court ruled employers cannot justify paying women lower wages because of going market rate. In other words, a wage differential "simply because men would not work at the low rates paid women" is unacceptable.

  • 1978 - Pregnancy Discrimination Act - A woman cannot be fired or denied jobs or promotions because she is or may become pregnant, nor forced to take pregnancy leave if she is willing and able to work.

  • 1986 - Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson - The Supreme Court finds that sexual harassment is a form of illegal job discrimination.

  • 1993 - Family Leave Act - Federal law requiring covered employers to provide employees job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Includes personal or family illness, family military leave, pregnancy, adoption or the foster care placement of a child.

But it does not end there. The struggle for parity in the workplace spans four decades. Fast forward to the 21st Century.

  • 2009 - President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act allowing victims of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government. Named after a Goodyear employee who alleged and later proved that she was paid 15-40% less than male counterparts.

Women continue to be in the forefront of the struggle for their rights. This legacy of faith, hope and strength continues with each generation of daughters and has influenced women all over the world. A proud legacy with impressive gains. That's why we celebrate Women's History Month.

By: Barbara Mitchell

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