I became a lawyer in 1983, and did a few civil rights cases. Things dramatically changed in 1991 when Congress expanded Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Back then, I began handling the most horrendous sexual harassment cases. Some employers were groping and fondling their subordinates in the workplace, co-workers in traditionally male jobs were sexually intimidating female co-workers, offers of promotions in exchange for sex occurred. I tried my first sexual harassment case to a jury in 1994, where the manager had not only propositioned my client, but also grabbed between her legs. Since then, I have tried many sexual harassment cases with the most vile and outrageous facts. Juries responded to sexual harassment cases in a big way, and companies began to see the value in stopping sexual harassment cases in the workplace. As my old boss used to say, people will do the right thing if you make them. In the early 1990's, I predicted that sexual harassment cases would die out in ten years. That didn't happen, but things are much better than they were twenty years ago.
Discrimination is far from a memory, though. In our office, we are handling several race discrimination, national origin discrimination and sexual harassment cases. We have a long way to go to achieve equality of opportunity for all races. Age discrimination, in this economy, has exploded. In fact, age discrimination is extremely rampant now. In the last two jury trials our firm has had which were for age discrimination, I pointed out that it was acceptable in our last Presidential election to lambast McCain for his age. It is not acceptable in this country to hurl epithets against any group except older people. The jury responded. The way we treat our elders is atrocious.
But, I am ever optimistic. I see a new age, just around the corner, where it is unlawful to discriminate in employment based on sexual orientation. Kansas City has such an ordinance, even though Missouri and the federal government do not. Congress is killing that strange policy, "Don't ask, don't tell." I predict we are close to legislation which has as its purpose to even the playing field regardless of sexual orientation. I am optimistic because it was acceptable to ridicule gays and lesbians in my youth, while my children would be appalled at that behavior.
I am beginning to be optimistic in another area that I thought would never change - wage disparity. Women earn between 76% to 80% of men. Women are promoted less than men and traditionally female jobs are paid less than traditionally male jobs, regardless of skill level and complexity. There is a pending class action case against Wal-Mart, with a potential class of 1.5 million people. Maybe, just maybe, we will finally come to realize that paying women less than Caucasian men is not okay. Women make up 52% of the population and almost half of the workforce. This is major! And, if women can eventually get equal pay treatment, then so can African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. Perhaps, we are on the path to true equality in treatment of all our citizens. Perhaps, when talking about a family in poverty, Americans will not just accept that household be a "single mom" as a valid explanation.
One day, maybe sometime soon, maybe in my lifetime, people will be "judged by the content of their character, and not be the color of their skin" nor by the age of their body, nor their gender nor their sexual orientation. This will only happen if there are enough brave souls out their willing to buck the system by using our legal system and suing discriminatory employers. Our judicial system is working. It's exciting to think what the future can bring.