Historical Highlights for Marginalized Women Workers
Fighting for Women's Equality
Economic Justice for Women and Families

Historical Highlights for Women Workers

Since its founding in 1974, ERA has spearheaded a number of projects dedicated to achieving economic justice for women workers, particularly those facing the most egregious forms of sex discrimination and unjust working conditions compounded by other barriers to fair treatment and equal opportunity in the workplace. These include the Lesbian Rights Project (which later became the National Center for Lesbian Rights), the Immigrant Women’s Task Force, the Welfare Reform Project, the Farmworker Women’s Leadership Project (which later became the organization Lideres Campesinas), the Garment Workers Educational Project, the Tradeswomen Advocacy Project, the Affirmative Action Public Education Project, and the Equal Employment Opportunities for Women of Color Project. Each of these projects led to significant litigation and policy achievements on behalf of low-wage women workers, women of color, immigrant workers, lesbians, and women working in male-dominated fields. See highlights of ERA’s success assisting women.

  • Equal Opportunities for Women, including in Male-Dominated Industries

  • Wage Justice and Equal Pay

  • Sexual Harassment and Safety in the Workplace

Equal Opportunities for Women, including in Male-Dominated Industries

    • Mueller v. Greyhound Lines West (1977): ERA successfully challenges Greyhound’s policy of excluding qualified women from bus driver positions through the use of minimum height and weight requirements, obtaining relief that eliminated those requirements and established female hiring goals.
    • Advocates for Women v. Usery (1979): ERA negotiates a landmark consent decree requiring the Secretary of Labor to establish goals and timetables for the hiring of women by federal contractors.
    • Bernardi v. Yeutter (1981): ERA resolves a class-action sex discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service through a consent decree providing for hiring goals and timetables and establishing a $1.5 million affirmative action fund.
    • Colombano v. City and County of San Francisco (1985): This lawsuit, which was brought against the City and County of San Francisco and several individual police officers on behalf of Louette Colombano, a nine-year veteran of the police force who was subjected to severe, life-threatening harassment, results in a settlement of approximately $800,000, reached on the eve of the trial.
    • Davis et al. v. City and County of San Francisco (1987): ERA settles a landmark case on behalf of women firefighters challenging discriminatory hiring policies of the San Francisco Fire Department with a consent decree that included hiring and promotional goals for women and minorities. The decree is one of the first to set specific goals for women of color.
    • United Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls (1991): ERA joins several public interest law organizations in submitting an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that challenges “fetal protection” policies used by employers nationwide to exclude women from high-paying industrial jobs traditionally dominated by men. The Court’s landmark ruling finds the employer’s fetal-protection policy to be a form of sex discrimination forbidden under Title VII.
    • Charles v. DOE Electrical Contractor (2008): Following years of advocacy through its Tradeswomen Legal Advocacy Project, ERA settles a case on behalf of six journey-women electricians who alleged that they were laid off because of their sex. ERA partnered with Judy Kurtz and the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic of Golden Gate University School of Law to obtain monetary damages and injunctive relief requiring the company to train its managers on issues of gender discrimination and sex-based harassment.
    • Maher v. County of Fresno (2008): A Fresno jury awards fire recruit Michelle Maher $2.46 million after finding she was terminated from the academy based on her sex. The case, brought by ERA and Siegel & Yee, later settles.

Wage Justice and Equal Pay

    • Caria v. Saks Fifth Avenue (1978): ERA settles a gender pay discrimination class action suit against Saks Fifth Avenue with an agreement establishing significant back pay and salary readjustment funds, as well as changes in hiring and promotion procedures.
    • Kouba v. Allstate Insurance Company (1984): In this landmark pay equity case against Allstate Insurance Company, ERA successfully settles the company’s practice of setting salaries based on previous job earnings, and obtains an settlement under which Allstate agrees to pay $5 million in back pay to over 3,400 class members nationwide
    • Sai Chen Ha et al. v. T&W Fashions and Fritzi Manufacturing Corporation (1986): ERA, the Asian Law Caucus, and the Employment Law Center successfully settle a case on behalf of 13 garment workers who sought to recover unpaid wages, overtime compensation, and compensatory damages from an apparel manufacturer and its contractor.
    • Henning et al. v. Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) (1988): ERA and several public interest law firms and unions work with the Coalition for a Fair Minimum Wage to challenge the subminimum wage for tipped employees, two-thirds of whom are women, resulting in a California Supreme Court decision declaring the subminimum wage illegal.
    • Bell v. Kemp (1989): In this important pay equity case, ERA challenges the federal government’s policy of setting employee salaries based upon earnings in previous jobs, a practice which institutionalized and perpetuated sex- and race-based wage discrimination.
    • Castrejon v. Tortilleria La Mejor (1991): ERA, along with the Asian Law Caucus and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, win a landmark federal district court case affirming that undocumented immigrant workers are entitled to the same protections and rights as other employees under federal anti-discrimination law.
    • Does 1-8 v. ASC Fashion, US Boys, et al. (1999): In this case against garment manufacturers on behalf of Thai and Latino immigrant workers, ERA obtains settlement pursuant to which the manufacturers agree to monitor their independent contractors to ensure compliance with wage and hour laws and workplace safety regulations.
    • Kamsan Mao v. Top Line Electronics and Lite-On (2000): ERA and the Asian Law Caucus bring and settle the first-ever lawsuit to challenge illegal homework practices in the electronics assembly industry, bringing public attention to the need for companies to cease such illegal practices and educating immigrant workers about their rights.
    • Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores (2001): ERA and co-counsel The Impact Fund, Cohen Milstein Sellers Toll, PLLC, and other firms bring and continue to litigate) a class action sex discrimination lawsuit against retail giant Wal-Mart Stores challenging its policies and practices of denying equal pay and promotion opportunities to its female workforce.
    • Brown v. Sacramento Regional Transit District (2002): ERA and co-counsel, The Impact Fund, successfully settle a class action gender discrimination lawsuit against Sacramento Regional Transit District challenging subjective training and selection practices that resulted in the hiring and promotion of less qualified men into desirable and higher paying positions and the exclusion of equally qualified women.
    • Medina v. Station Casinos, et al. (2008): ERA and co-counsel reach a multi-million dollar settlement of a wage and hour and sexual harassment class action lawsuit brought on behalf of casino workers at Thunder Valley Casino.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Worker Safety

  • Miller v. Bank of America (1980): ERA represents an African American woman in bringing a complaint of sex and race discrimination against her employer which results in a landmark ruling holding the employer vicariously liable for harassment by a supervisor.
  • Piazza v. BART (1982): ERA successfully settles a sexual harassment case on behalf of a BART mechanic who was subjected to life-threatening harassment and differential treatment by co-workers and supervisors.
  • Gonzalez v. Rubber Stampede (1993): After she was rushed to the hospital for acute chemical fumes exposure at her workplace, ERA brings brought suit on behalf of Maria Theresa Gonzalez to challenge her employer’s failure to provide adequate ventilation and monitor workers’ exposure to toxic fumes, and its retaliation against her for reporting these hazards to OSHA, relying for the first time on California’s anti-toxic initiative (Proposition 65) in asserting these employment claims.
  • McIntyre and Hibbitts v. Main Street and Main Street Incorporated d/b/a TGI Fridays (2000): As part of a strategy to conduct targeted litigation in the restaurant industry, ERA successfully settles a sexual harassment case on behalf of two African-American female servers.
  • Donaldson v. Lori’s Diner (2006): ERA and co-counsel Sundeen, Salinas & Pyle resolve a suit brought on behalf of female wait staff at Lori’s Diner, a San Francisco restaurant chain, who alleged they were subjected to egregious sexual and racial harassment at work.
  • Medina v. Station Casinos (2009): In this class action sexual harassment and wage and hour case on behalf of female workers at Thunder Valley Casino, ERA and co-counsel obtain a multi-million dollar settlement and significant injunctive relief.
  • Bojorquez v. ABM Industries Incorporated, et al. (2012): ERA and co-counsel Villegas Carrera LLP achieve a $812,001 jury verdict in a case brought on behalf of an immigrant janitorial worker who was sexually harassed, assaulted, and subjected to retaliation on the job.

Historical Highlights for Working Families

ERA has pursued hundreds of cases and legislative efforts nationwide to ensure that men and women can start and support their families without facing discrimination at work or draconian work schedules or conditions. Here are some historical highlights:

  • In the 1970’s ERA challenges the discriminatory treatment of pregnant workers in early cases before the United States Supreme Court, fighting California’s refusal to deny disability insurance coverage to women disabled by pregnancy in Geduldig v. Aiello and a school district’s forced maternity leave policy in Berg v. Richmond Unified School District. Victory follows closely behind these cases when Congress passes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
  • California Federal Savings & Loan v. Department of Fair Employment and Housing (1987): The United States Supreme agrees with the reasoning set forth in an amicus brief filed by ERA, upholding a California law that requires employers with five or more employees to grant unpaid disability leaves of up to four months to women disabled by pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Miller v. Children’s Hospital (1990): ERA successfully brings this pregnancy discrimination lawsuit challenging employer policies that excluded pregnant employees from certain jobs rather than accommodating them.
  • ERA plays a key role in passage and interpretation of the California Family Rights Act of 1991, which provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job protected leave to care for one’s own serious health condition or that of a family member or to bond with a new child. Passage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act follows in 1993.
  • ERA’s efforts to obtain modest workplace accommodations for pregnant workers in California leads to amendments of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act in 1992 and 1999.
  • Pallas v. AT&T (1999): After the U.S. Supreme Court rejects review of a victory at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, ERA settles thispregnancy discrimination case concerning denial of early retirement due to maternity leave on behalf of a class of nearly 10,000 women on terms valued at over $25 million dollars
  • Lundy v. University of California, Santa Cruz (2000): ERA settles a case on behalf a female UCSC faculty member who was fired after she took parental leave to adopt and care for her first child, obtaining back pay and the benefits for the client.
  • ERA plays a pivotal role in passage of California’s Paid Family Leave Act in 2002, making California the first state in the country to provide workers with partial wage replacement for up to six weeks per year to care for a family member or bond with a new child. Over the next decade, ERA joins other California non-profits in the Paid Family Leave Collaborative to educate the public about this important law.
  • In 2007, ERA launches an effort to protect family caregivers from discrimination at work in California, introducing a series of related bills in the California legislature over the next several years.
  • That same year, the U.S. EEOC issues Enforcement Guidance to stop the Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers With Caregiving Responsibilities.
  • In 2011, ERA co-sponsors SB 299, an amendment to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act that guarantees continued health care coverage for women out on pregnancy disability leave. The bill is signed into law in 2011, and takes effect on January 1, 2012.
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