My sister sent me a cartoon depicting a pregnant woman and her husband standing before an OB/GYN. The woman asks, “Can you tell if it’s a boy or a lower wage earner?” This cartoon is very apropos for the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision limiting the ability of workers to sue for wage discrimination. This ruling will probably have the biggest impact on women, who tend to earn less than men. The only woman on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was quoted May 30 in Ms. Magazine from her dissenting opinion: “Women on average earn 77 cents for every man’s dollar. Women’s wages could begin at an equal level with a man’s and then decrease over time and the woman might not be aware of the discrimination until years after it began.” This discrimination frequently occurs in middle management. One can easily conclude from this that older female workers will be most profoundly affected by this decision.

The Court’s decision puts a strict timetable of 180 days to file a case after the original discriminatory act occurred. The reality of the workplace is that individual wages are not generally widely disseminated. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson stated in a press release from his campaign office, “The majority of justices on this Court are out of touch with current realities. Unequal pay is often a secret and subtle act of discrimination, and the 180-day time limit places an insurmountable burden upon those affected.” This ruling could have the effect of turning employees into amateur sleuths desperate to discover the password for the accountant’s computer to get access to pay records. It also creates mistrust: you can’t afford not to know what everyone at your pay level is earning…and know it fast.

Would the outcome of this decision have changed if our Supreme Court consisted of 8 women and 1 man? It is a bit outrageous that half the population has only one voice on the Supreme Court. During the Senate confirmation hearing for John Roberts, I was struck by a comment he made. He said that he wouldn’t let his personal opinion interfere with his interpretation of the law. Sincere though he may be, his ‘interpretation of the law’, while bound by legal opinion, must also be influenced by his world view. How could it not be??? So, if the Supreme Court has an 8 to 1 male majority, then the “world view” of half of our population is not being fairly represented/ Indeed, it’s hardly being represented at all.

Twenty some years ago Ronald Reagan said we didn’t need the ERA amendment because women’s rights were already protected by established laws. Interpreting those laws is another issue. Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her vocal opposition to this 5-4 decision, “In our view, this court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.” How many other court cases that profoundly affect the lives of women across this country and in all walks of life will come before this Supreme Court? I do wonder whether men in this country would be comfortable having their rights decided by a Supreme Court consisting of 8 women and 1 man. Ask around.
Jan Bina, In The Trenches Productions

Published in: on June 5, 2007 at 12:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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