In celebration of Women's Equality Day, August 26, NOW chapters will cap a summer of action on the Women-Friendly Workplace campaign with grassroots activities in a dozen cities. From Arizona students collecting "Consumer's Pledges" to support women-friendly businesses, to Dallas area chapters picketing JCPenney to protest its mandatory arbitration policy for employment discrimination complaints, NOW activists will send the message that summer was just the beginning.
"As we head into the fall, we will continue to fight for feminist work environments," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. NOW pickets throughout the spring and summer drew attention to charges of sexual harassment and discrimination at the Mitsubishi plant in Normal, IL and at Smith Barney offices across the country.
NOW celebrated a victory in the Women-Friendly Workplace campaign with last Thursday's vote by the board of the National Association of Securities Dealers to eliminate mandatory arbitration of statutory discrimination claims.
"The NASD took one small step for justice on Wall Street," Ireland said. "We call on industry giants -- like Smith Barney -- to follow the NASD's lead and change their policies."
Smith Barney faces a class action sex discrimination suit filed by former and current women employees. Under mandatory arbitration rules, a class action lawsuit is the only potential vehicle for employees to have their charges of discrimination or harassment heard in court.
"All employees should be able to sue under civil rights laws, in a trial heard by a jury in open court," Ireland said. "What's a law without enforcement?"
A jury can award punitive damages that would strongly encourage employers like Smith Barney -- and other securities dealers -- to clean up their act or face the financial consequences. Arbitration hearings are held behind closed doors, and arbitrators are told they are not obligated to apply civil rights laws.
NOW hopes the NASD's decision will slow the rush of other industries toward mandatory arbitration policies. Ireland pledged to increase the pressure throughout the fall on "Merchants of Shame" Smith Barney and Mitsubishi and other businesses that fail to respect their employees' civil rights.
Link to this release at http://www.now.org/08-97/08-12-97.html.
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