Education Labor Rights Violence Against Women

Women’s and Labor Rights Advocates hold Enough is Enough Summit on Sex Harassment

Last week the Enough is Enough Summit and Briefing on Capitol Hill harnessed the momentum of the #MeToo movement to bring together a diverse group of lawyers, activists, and policy makers to think through comprehensive survivor-centered policy solutions to the sexual harassment and violence epidemic in workplaces and schools. The Summit was organized by the Feminist Majority Foundation in partnership with the National Organization for Women, Unite Here!, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, National Congress of Black Women, Legal Momentum, and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Through a series of panels, speakers discussed the benefits, details and unforeseen consequences of legislation that has already been put forward, as well as new initiatives that have not yet been considered.  From the Summit, the partnering organizations are developing a clear list of strategic policy demands that will address the crisis of sexual harassment and violence in workplaces and schools.

According to Chai Feldblum, Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 60 percent of women experience gender discrimination at some point in their career, but 70 percent never report it to anybody. “People who report sexual harassment deserve to be told ‘Thank you!’” stated Feldbum. “Right now that’s not usually what they get.”

“In the sphere of harassment, women of color experience that harassment in much more pernicious ways,” said Deborah J. Vagins, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Research at the American Association of University Women. “Women of color are paid less, they are underrepresented in high wage sectors, and they are overly represented in low wage sectors.”

Many pieces of comprehensive legislation were discussed, from Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s Ending Secrecy About Workplace Sexual Harassment Act to the Ending Forced Arbitration Act of 2017, which is being championed by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson.

But one of the prime areas of debate centered around whether or not feminists should endorse opening up Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for amendment. Title VII is supposed to protect against discrimination in the workplace based on sex, but it has many limitations: there is a strict statute of limitations for filing a discrimination complaint; employees who file suit can receive a payout of no more than $300,000 from massive corporations; a person who works at a company with less than 15 employees is not covered at all; and there is no judicial standard for determining what cases of harassment are considered severe and pervasive. While there are many flaws that need to be fixed in Title VII, some feel that opening up the bill during this hostile administration could lead to it being completely gutted all together.

Agricultural workers, who are often considered contractors, are an example of the type of women who are not covered by current law, but who are in desperate need of a solution to the epidemic of sexual harassment and violence. “There are 700,000 farmworker women in this country and for too long migrant women have not been counted as workers. The reality is that women’s work has never been valued the way men’s work has” said Monica Ramirez, Co-founder and President of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. “90 percent of farmworker women say that sexual violence is a problem for them. For so long people didn’t want to hear about what was happening in our fields. But the moment is now.”

Domestic workers also face high rates of sexual violence on the job, but currently have only weak protections. June Barrett, Leader and Organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance We Dream in Black Program stated, “Domestic workers are some of the most vulnerable. When we disappear behind closed doors, we don’t have an HR. These men who are still operating in plantation mode think they can do whatever they want.”

“Before you get to the workplace, you need to teach girls about their bodies and standing up for themselves when they’re in elementary school,” said Carolyn Baldwin Moody, President and CEO of Legal Momentum.

For this reason, Title IX, which seeks to prevent sex based discrimination at educational institutions, was another major area of discussion at the Summit. The Department of Education under the Trump administration and Secretary Betsy DeVos recently rescinded Obama-era policies and guidance that protected survivors of sexual assault and worked to reduce the high levels of sexual assault on college and university campuses. Congresswoman Jackie Speier’s Title IX Protection Act would codify that rescinded guidance into law. Today, one in five women will be assaulted while in college.

Lawyers from the firm Katz, Marshall and Banks discussed the Feminist Majority Foundation’s (FMF) Title IX lawsuit against the University of Mary Washington, which will be heard by an appellate court on May 8. FMF’s lawsuit alleges a systemic failure to protect students from a sexually hostile school environment, sexual harassment, sex-based cyber assaults, and threats of physical and sexual violence.  The lawsuit came after the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education failed to release any resolution almost two years after a Title IX complaint was filed.

“We want to strengthen Title VII, Title XI and the Violence Against Women Act. And every step of the way we are pushing for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “We are marching in the streets and we are not stopping. This is a historic moment.”

Media Resources: Office of Congreswoman Carolyn Maloney 4/25/18; Feminist Newswire 10/26/16, 9/22/17, 10/13/17, 5/11/17

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