Just 20 years ago, in most states a woman could not sign an apartment
lease, get a credit rating, or apply for a loan unless her husband or a male
relative agreed to share the responsibility. Similarly, a 1965 study found that
fifty one percent of men though women were “temperamentally unfit for
management.” There can be no doubt that we have progressed a long way from
these ideas in the last three decades. However, it is also unquestionable that
women in the work force are still discriminated against, sexually harassed, paid
less than men, and suffer from occupational sex segregation and fears of failure
as well as fears of success. We will address all of these concerns in this
paper, and look at some well-known court cases as illustrations.
Anyone who thinks sex discrimination is a thing of the past only has to
ask Muriel Kraszewski or Ann Hopkings to learn differently. Muriel Kraszewski
worked for State Farm Insurance Company for twelve years and was the leading
candidate for an important promotion. She was denied the promotion because, her
employers said, she had no college degree and was too much under the control of
her husband. Kraszewski sued the company and won her case, after a nine year
battle, in late January 1988. She was given what may be the largest sex-bias
award in history: up to two hundreds of millions for 1,113 other female State
Farm employees with similar complaints, and $433,000 for Kraszewski her-self.
Ann Hopkings was one of Price Waterhouse’s top young executives.
had the best record for getting and maintaining big accounts, but when she came
up for a partnership in 1982, she was denied because several male partners had
evaluated her as “too macho.” They advised her to walk, talk, and dress more
femininely. In response, Hopkings quit the firm and filed suit under Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbids employers to discriminate on the
basis of a person’s sex.
In May 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Price Waterhouse had
based its decision on unlawful sex stereotyping.
The decision shifted the legal
burden of proof to the employer, which should make it easier for employees to
win future Title VII cases. Experts say that the decision’s main affect may be
to force companies to eliminate bias in the people making important personnel
decisions for them. The decision was a landmark for anti-discrimination, but we
should not overemphasize its power. Even now, after a long and expensive court
battle, only twenty eight of Price Waterhouse’s nine hundred partners are women.
One avenue of reform which the U.S.
Supreme Court has long supported is
the use of affirmative action plans. On March 25, 1987 the court ruled that the
public transportation agency of Santa Clara County, California was justified in
given a road dispatcher’s job to Diana Joyce rather than a man. Joyce scored
two points lower on a test than the man did, but a panel of supervisors found
her to be otherwise just as qualified.
The decision was based on the fact that the agency’s affirmative action
plan met the court’s three criteria for fairness. The plan was flexible,
temporary, and designed to gradually correct the imbalance in the overwhelmingly
white male work force. The Reagan administration had taken the position that
affirmative action plans were only permissible if they addressed individual
victims of actual discrimination.
The Supreme Court clearly disagreed, but it
was careful to point out that employers did not have to have an affirmative
action plan, nor were they precluded from hiring the most qualified candidate
for a given position.
Closely linked to sex discrimination in the job market, are sex
segregation of occupations and wage inequalities. A recent article in the
“Monthly Labor Review” noted that, “sex segregation continues to characterize
the american workplace, despite the changes that have occurred in some
occupations. Millions of women continue to work in a small number of almost
totally female clerical and service occupations, and men continue to make up the
majority of workers in the majority of occupations.”
The National Academy of Science published a study in 1986 on the cause,
extent, and future direction of sex segregation. The study found that women’s
occupational options have increase significantly during the last decade, and
that the overall index of occupational segregation had decreased by almost ten
percent between 1972 and 1981, which is more than in any other decade in the
The sharpest gains in the number of women employed were in the
following jobs: lawyer, .