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Gender Discrimination

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Gender discrimination, or sex discrimination, may be characterized as the unequal treatment of a person based solely on that person's sex. While females have historically laid claim to the cry of unequal treatment, modern civil rights laws banning sex discrimination have been construed to protect males as well, especially in the area of employment.
During the early years of this country, women were not entitled to the same rights and privileges as men. Women were not allowed to vote and were usuallyrequired to surrender control of their property to their husband upon marriage. Moreover, their educational and occupational opportunities were severely limited. It was commonly believed that a woman's place was in the home, raising children and tending to domestic affairs.
The first real efforts to achieve equality for women occurred in the 1800s. During the early part of that century, coeducational studies at the universitylevel were offered for the first time. State laws were passed which allowedwomen to retain their property after marriage. Also, the first women's rightsconvention was held. Many who supported women's rights became active in theabolitionist movement during the Civil War era. Some even became well-known public orators, an uncommon occupation for women at the time.
The quest for equality continued after the Civil War. In 1869, the Wyoming Territory passed a law which allowed women to vote and serve on juries. Severalother western territories and states subsequently granted women the right tovote. Women's rights advocates were outraged that the Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1870, prohibited the states from denying voting rights on the ground of race, but not on the basis of sex. In 1878, Congress considered a Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. Although the amendment failed, it was revitalized every year for a period of 40 years. The movement for women's suffrage was led, among others, by Susan B. Anthony, whowas arrested for voting in a presidential election, and by Lucy Stone, who was one of the first American women to retain her maiden name after marriage. In 1920, women were finally given the constitutional right to vote in the Nineteenth Amendment, which provided that "[t]he right of citizens of the UnitedStates to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by anyState on account of sex."
The women's rights movement lost its impetus after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. It was not until the 1960s that it regained its momentum.With more women rejecting the traditional role of housewife and entering thework force, there was an increased demand for equal rights and opportunities. In response, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the ground of sex with respect to the terms of compensation. The following year, Congress enacted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination in employment onthe basis of sex, among other grounds. Males, as well as females, have beengranted protection against sex discrimination under both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII.
In 1972, Congress submitted the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the states for ratification. Basically, the ERA barred all discrimination on the ground ofsex. However, the ERA suffered defeat after the necessary number of states failed to ratify it within the mandatory ten-year deadline. To date, women arestill struggling with the issue of equality in their personal and professional relationships. Thirty-five years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women have still not achieved equality in wages.
Discrimination in the Acquisition of Credit
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1968, as amended, prohibits a creditor from discriminating against an individual on the grounds of sex or marital status with respect to the granting of credit. This means that a woman cannot bedenied a credit card or personal loan solely on the basis of her gender. Furthermore, a creditor is barred from requiring a married woman to apply for credit in her spouse's name.
Discrimination in Education: Access to Educational Opportunities
Women college students have traditionally been denied access to the educational opportunities offered by all-male, military-oriented institutions of higher learning. (Note that these establishments are not part of any branch of thearmed forces). They have been denied admission on the grounds that the physical training would be too rigorous for them, their presence would adversely affect the morale of the male students, and their inclusion would necessarilyresult in the reduction of standards.
However, the United States Supreme Court discredited such reasons in United States v Virginia (1996), when it held as unconstitutional the male-only admission policy practiced by the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The Supreme Court found that such policy violated the equal protection clause underthe Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Established in 1839, VMI was the only remaining single-sex public institution of higher learning in Virginia. Its goal was to produce "citizen-soldiers" who were prepared for leadership in civilian life and military service. In furtherance of this goal, VMI used an "adversative method," which included mental stress, absence of privacy with constant surveillance, and minute regulation of behavior.
The Supreme Court determined that sex classifications may not be used to create or perpetuate the legal, social, and economic inferiority of females. Furthermore, the Supreme Court rejected VMI's argument that the establishment ofa separate program for women would cure the constitutional violation. In thisregard, the Supreme Court pointed out that an all-female college would not afford its students an opportunity to experience the same rigorous military training that was provided by VMI. It would also deprive the female students ofthe prestige, traditions, and community standing available to their male counterparts at VMI.
Discrimination in Education: Participation in Athletic Programs
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination infederally funded education programs, including athletic activities. In passing Title IX, Congress intended to prevent the use of federal resources to promote gender discrimination. Title IX does not require a state university to maintain any athletic program at all. However, it does require a state school to provide equal athletic opportunities to both sexes if the school does choose to offer athletics to its students. Title IX has prompted much litigation by female college athletes, who claim that they are not provided with the samebenefits, treatment, services, and opportunities as their male counterparts.If a state university has eliminated a female varsity team, the aggrieved athletes must show that the university failed to provide female students with athletic opportunities that are proportionate to their percentage in the student body.
Discrimination in Employment
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits employers that are engaged in an industryaffecting commerce from discriminating against their employees on the basisof sex, with respect to the payment of wages. In essence, the act mandates equal pay when members of both sexes have jobs which require the comparable execution of skill, effort, and responsibility and which are performed under similar working conditions. Wages established on any of the following methods are exempt from the "equal pay for equal work" rule: (1) a seniority system; (2) a merit system; (3) a system that measures earnings by either quantity or quality of production; or (4) a differential that is based on a considerationother than sex. However, none of the above methods would justify an employer's practice of paying married women less than either men or single women whenall three categories of employees have substantially similar positions.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employers from discriminatingagainst individuals on the ground of sex. To fall within the parameters of the act, an employer must be engaged in an industry which affects interstate commerce and must have 15 or more employees. State discrimination laws govern employers that do not come under Title VII. The term "sex" includes pregnancy,childbirth, and related medical conditions. However, Title VII's protectionsare not limited to females. Both men and women have pursued sex discrimination claims under Title VII. An employer is prohibited from advertising for help in a sexually discriminatory manner, as well as from making a hiring decision that is based on an applicant's sex. Furthermore, an employer is precludedfrom denying a promotion to an employee or from deciding to discharge an employee on the basis of gender. An employee who has been treated differently than similarly situated employees of the opposite sex, with respect to a term,condition, or privilege of employment, may sue the employer under a "disparate treatment" theory. In defense, the employer will attempt to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its conduct. By way of example, an employer may contend that the employee had been discharged for poor job performance or failure to comply with company policies. After the employer offers anexplanation for its action, the employee will be given an opportunity to showthat the reason was merely a pretext for a discriminatory motive.
Alternatively, an employee may commence suit under a "disparate impact" theory if the employer has a policy or rule which has a disproportionate impact onmembers of that employee's gender. For example, the employer may have a rulewhich has the effect of promoting or perpetuating discrimination against females even though the rule does not apparently discriminate against women. Anemployer may restrict a job routine to people who meet a certain height requirement. If a majority of women in the general population do not meet that requirement, then the law can be found to have a disparate impact on female employees.
Sexual harassment is another form of prohibited sex discrimination under Title VII. This typically involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for favorsof a sexual nature, or other offensive verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. A female employee may claim sexual harassment by a male employee, and, in turn, a male worker may allege unwanted sexual advances by a female worker. The United States Supreme Court recognized same-sex sexual harassment in Oncale v Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc. (1998), which involved amale worker's claim that he had been forcibly subjected to sex-related, humiliating conduct by male co-workers, including a physical assault and the threat of rape.

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