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A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows on Women’s History Month 2022

Dear Colleagues:

March is Women’s History Month – a time to celebrate women’s contributions to culture, society, and history that are too often overlooked or undervalued. At the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), we recognize that women’s contributions – including in the workplace – are as critical today as they were at our nation’s founding. And thanks to enormous progress toward equal opportunity for women, within the last several decades, women not only have effectively participated in workplace reforms to secure better pay and employment benefits, but also have increasingly served in leadership positions. 

While women – who lost 11.9 million jobs in the first few months of the pandemic – experienced the steepest employment losses, many Black and Hispanic women faced additional hardship as the sole or primary financial providers for their families. In response to these economic and employment challenges, the EEOC is partnering with the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) on a multi-year collaboration called “HIRE, a Hiring Initiative to Reimagine Equity.” Through HIRE, we aim to identify innovative and evidence-based practices that will help women of color and other workers from underrepresented communities gain equal access to good jobs and help employers access talent.

Additionally, many women who left the labor force due to the pandemic were compelled to do so based on caregiving responsibilities. In March 2021, almost 1.5 million fewer moms of school-aged children were actively working than in February 2020. Those caregivers who remained employed often found themselves balancing family obligations with stressful job demands such as disruptive changes in schedule or work location. As a result, too many caregivers – primarily women – are more vulnerable to employers’ negative assumptions and discriminatory practices. The EEOC recently published technical assistance on how discrimination against applicants and employees with caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic may violate federal employment discrimination laws.

As we work to address these current challenges, we take encouragement from the Commission’s history of successfully championing women’s equality in the workplace. Since its inception, the EEOC has been involved in major cases that helped combat sex-based discrimination, including pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The following are a noteworthy few:

  • Neal vs. American Airlines and Colvin vs. Piedmont Aviation – In the early 1960s, the EEOC tackled pregnancy and sex discrimination in the airline industry on behalf of female flight attendants. In 1968, our agency issued its opinions in Neal vs. American Airlines and Colvin vs. Piedmont Aviation, which held that firing female flight attendants who chose to marry violated Title VII. These EEOC decisions rejected discriminatory assumptions that women who worked as flight attendants should remain unmarried “to avoid the stress on home and family life which would be caused by married stewardesses from their homes.”
  • Meritor Savings Bank – Citing guidance from the EEOC, the Supreme Court held in 1986 that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII.
  • AT&T/Western Electric Telephone – In 1991, the EEOC reached one of its largest cash settlement cases, nearly $66 million dollars, on behalf of 13,000 AT&T/Western Electric Telephone workers who were denied company benefits when they became pregnant. At that time, the company required women to take unpaid maternity leave at the end of their sixth or seventh month of pregnancy and allowed them only 30-days credit toward their seniority while employees on disability received full credit.
  • Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America, Inc. – In 1998, the EEOC settled a suit alleging a large-scale pattern and practice of sexual harassment at Mitsubishi’s normal plant for what was then the largest settlement in history – $34 million.
  • EEOC v. Dial Corp – In a 2006 case, the EEOC alleged, and the U.S. Southern District Court of Iowa found, that Dial’s use of a physical ability test to screen job applicants for a meat processing plant violated Title VII because it had a disparate impact against women, and Dial failed to justify it as a “business necessity.” The EEOC further alleged, and the jury concurred, that Dial’s continued use of this test, even after the company realized it was screening out women, constituted intentional discrimination in violation of Title VII.

These victories remind us that change is possible and that history can indeed provide healing and hope. In the words of former First Lady Michelle Obama, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.” The EEOC has played a critical role in advancing gender equity to ensure our economy has the full benefit of the many, diverse talents of American workers, and we remain committed to building inclusive workplaces where women can fulfill their potential and contribute to our country’s economic success.