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A Message from Chair Charlotte A. Burrows for 2024 Women’s History Month

This Women’s History Month we are commemorating women who advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion. It is particularly appropriate, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to honor the women who risked their jobs, economic security, and physical safety to challenge workplace discrimination. Their courage and vision resulted in our evolving understanding of the meaning of sex discrimination, in all its forms, which is prohibited by Title VII.

For instance, last year, for Pride Month, I highlighted Aimee Stephens, the transgender woman who was a plaintiff in R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, one of a trio of cases the U.S. Supreme Court resolved in the Bostock decision, affirming that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. She and the other plaintiffs were inducted into the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Honor in 2023 for their persistence and courage.

Another courageous woman is Mechelle Vinson, who in 1974, at the age of 19, began working as a teller-trainee at bank in Washington D.C. Shortly thereafter her supervisor asked her out to dinner and then demanded sex as a condition of keeping her job. Vinson later testified that he coerced her to have sexual relations with him, including forcibly, multiple times; groped her; and exposed himself. Vinson later said that as a young woman, she felt she had to submit for fear of losing her job. Finally at a breaking point, she sued her supervisor and the bank, arguing her supervisor’s actions created a hostile working environment and constituted unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. She was fired three weeks later, but that was not the end of her fight.

In 1980, the EEOC issued guidelines declaring sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. In 1986, Vinson’s case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the Supreme Court recognized hostile environment sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. The decision cited the EEOC’s guidelines and made clear that employers could be held liable for supervisor harassment, even if they were unaware of it. The decision provided a powerful incentive for employers to begin to take efforts to address and prevent harassment.

While there has been significant progress since the Vinson decision issued, we know that harassment in all forms continues to be a problem in many different workplaces, whether highlighted by the #MeToo movement, and as documented in the 2016 Report of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace and the 2023 Chair’s Report on the construction industry. As the Select Task Force Report observed, and as Mechelle Vinson’s story demonstrates, harassment has significant economic consequences for victims. Fewer hours, lost pay, demotions, damage to reputation, and being forced to leave a job or profession altogether all affect current and future earnings, contributing to the gender wage gap.

On March 12, we observed Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes how far into this year women must work in order to be paid what men made the prior year. The gender wage gap has barely changed in the last decade and is even wider for some women of color, mothers, and LGBTQI+ workers when compared to what white men make.

Pay discrimination is a significant driver of the gender wage gap, but due to pay secrecy and lack of information, workers often don’t realize when disparities are the result of discriminatory decisions. Occupational segregation–– the overrepresentation of women, and particularly women of color, in industries and occupations that offer low wages and few benefits, and underrepresentation in higher paying jobs – also contributes to pay inequality.

Information is a powerful tool that shines a light on discriminatory pay disparities and helps generate solutions. That’s why on March 12, 2024, Equal Pay Day, the Commission released a data dashboard featuring the historic, first-time collection of 2017 and 2018 pay data reported by about 70,000 private employers and certain federal contractors with 100 or more employees each year. The dashboard contains a unique collection of aggregated employer-level workforce demographic and pay data, reported by pay band. The dashboard allows industries, employers, and individuals to assess how their pay by sex and race compares to others in their industry, job category, or state.

In addition, the Commission continues to use enforcement to advance equal pay. In January, we filed suit against the Houston Independent School District (HISD), alleging it violated the Equal Pay Act when it paid female senior Career & Technical Education (CTE) program specialists lower wages than male senior CTE program specialists for performing substantially equal work based on their sex. Also in January, the agency announced an $80,000 settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a female intraoperative neurophysiology monitorist who was paid less than her male coworkers for performing equal work. After she complained, the company retaliated against her and treated her worse than similarly situated male colleagues, resulting in her constructive discharge.

The Commission’s commitment to fighting systemic harassment, eliminating barriers to jobs, and advancing equal pay for all workers are just a few of the priorities reflected in the Strategic Enforcement Plan. By fulfilling the promise of Title VII, we honor the brave and steadfast women who risked so much to improve working conditions and open the doors of opportunity for others.

Charlotte A. Burrows (she/her/hers)


U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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