Although there have been decades of hard won civil rights gains for women, we do not
yet live in a gender blind society. Sexism perpetuates a cycle of unfulfilled aspirations among
women. Public policies are being scrutinized under ever stricter legal microscopes, and an
atmosphere of unease about the future pervades our national consciousness – “a future beset
with economic challenges from abroad, technological innovation at home, a demographic
revolution in our workforce, and a re-stratification of society.” Restrictions on women’s access
to and participation in the workforce include the wage gap and the glass ceiling. We will
discuss the following laws that have helped women make important strides in the workforce,
cracking (but not breaking) the glass ceiling so they could climb up the corporate ladder: the
1963 Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Executive Orders 11246/11375, the
1968 Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. In
addition, we will provide reasons for the continuing network discrimination against females, a
recent case study of pervasive gender discrimination resulting in a 152.5 million dollar
settlement by one well known employer who was sued, and steps women can take to continue
making strides toward an equal opportunity workforce.
Legislation requiring equal pay for women was first introduced in 1945 in acknowledgement
of women’s war work. Business owners and labor organizations succeeded in
thwarting the effort, in part because of the perceived need for women to leave the labor force to
create vacancies for returning servicemen. By the end of the 1950’s, policymakers were
becoming concerned about insufficient use of “womanpower”. In 1963, Congress passed the
Equal Pay Act as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to require employers to
pay equal wages to men and women doing “equal work on jobs…which [require] equal skill,
effort, and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions”. The Equal Pay
Act was the first federal effort to bar discrimination by private employers on the basis of gender.
The Equal Pay Act has limitations in its enforcement of protecting women – for full-time, year-
round workers, the 2009 American Community Survey median earnings for women were 78.2
percent of men’s earnings - $35,549 compared with $45,485. Furthermore, women’s earnings
were lower than men’s in all of the 50 states.
One year after passing the Equal Pay Act, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act,
which made it unlawful to discriminate based on a person’s race, religion, color, or sex. Title VII
attacks sex discrimination more broadly than the Equal Pay Act extending not only to wages but
to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Thus with the Equal Pay Act
and Title VII, an employer cannot deny women equal pay for equal work, deny women transfers,
promotions, or wage increases, manipulate job evaluations to regulate women’s pay, or
intentionally segregate men and women into jobs according to their gender. In 1971 Reed v.
Reed became the first case that the Supreme Court would uphold Title VII to, thus protecting
women from sex discrimination.
One year following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon B.
Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 as a directive as to how the act should be interpreted
and followed. Executive Order 11246 prohibited public and government sector employers from
discriminating based on race, color, religion, or national origin, but not sex. Executive Order
11246 was amended by Executive Order 11375 on October 13, 1967 after sexual harassment
became an issue. Sex would now be included as a category that could not be discriminated
against by an employer.
Executive Order 11375 meant to...
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