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Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive

Protective Legislation

Colgate, like many companies, had placed a weight limit on items female employees might be required to lift. Such restrictions on women could also include maximum hours rules and prohibitions on nighttime work. These regulations were mostly products of the Progressive Era, which lasted from 1900 to World War I. The women's groups and unions who had promoted these laws had benevolent motives. Unfortunately, like most protective laws, this legislation had proven to be a liability to women.

The Colgate company's weight-lifting limit for women originated with World War II and the company's first large-scale influx of women workers as replacements for men away in military service. Jobs were specifically fashioned for these women. The work was less physically demanding and did not require the lifting of more than 25 pounds.

As the servicemen returned, however, the company and the union continued to set aside less strenuous jobs for women--reserving jobs requiring more physical stamina for men. But by the second wave of feminism in the 1960s, almost all women's groups were unequivocally opposed to these laws and rules, describing them as paternalistic and instrumental in limiting women's job opportunities--not to mention resulting in lower pay.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive - Significance, Protective Legislation, Gender Segregation, The First Round, Appeals Court Overrules, Impact