What We’ve Accomplished: Workplace Justice
For nearly 50 years, ERA has transformed the law for hundreds of thousands of women workers through high-impact litigation, our free legal advice program, and by advocating for groundbreaking policy reforms. We are fearless in court, arguing before juries and even the U.S. Supreme Court, for the rights of low-wage women workers, immigrants, LBTQI+ women, women working in male-dominated fields, and countless others.
Our workplace legal wins have advanced equity in many areas of workplace justice, including:
- Opportunities in Male-Dominated Fields
- Equal Pay and Wage Justice
- Sexual Harassment and Safety in the Workplace
- Equal Opportunity for Professional Advancement
- Discrimination and Unfair Treatment at Work
A Timeline of Our Biggest Wins
- Nation’s Strongest Sexual Harassment Laws. ERA co-sponsored played a crucial role in passing the nation’s strongest package of anti-sexual harassment legislation, strengthening protections for working people across California, holding neglectful employers accountable, and making it easier for victims to get the justice and healing they deserve.
- Repairing Sexually Hostile Workplaces. ERA settled a lawsuit on behalf of women employed by BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, who experienced a sexually hostile work environment, and were discriminated against in promotion and job assignment decisions (Aviles v. BAE Systems). The women workers received $3 million in back pay, and BAE made significant changes to its discrimination and harassment policies.
- Ending Rape on the Night Shift. We sued facilities management giant ABM Industries, Inc, (Bojorquez v. ABM Industries, et al.) on behalf of night-shift janitor Maria Bojorquez, who was sexually assaulted, harassed, and retaliated against at work. Under our settlement, ABM agreed to thorough outside reviews for investigations of rape or attempted rape at their company, benefitting thousands of current and future workers.
- California Fair Pay Act. ERA was the lead organizational sponsor of the California Fair Pay Act, which became the strongest equal pay law in the country. This innovative law makes it illegal for employers to pay workers of the opposite sex different amounts for performing “substantially similar” work, and prohibits discrimination/retaliation against workers who ask about or discuss their pay.
- Reliable Health Coverage for Pregnant Workers. ERA’s advocacy resulted in passage of California Senate Bill 299, an amendment to state’s Fair and Employment and Housing Act that requires employers of 5 or more to continue uninterrupted health care coverage for pregnant workers on pregnancy disability leave.
- Fighting for Women Firefighters. We represented firefighter Michelle Maher, the only woman recruit in the fire academy, who was terminated from the academy because she was forced to meet higher standards than male recruits (Maher v. County of Fresno). We settled for $2.47 million following a jury verdict in her favor.
- Jackpot for Victimized Casino Workers. ERA and co-counsel reach a multi-million dollar settlement of a wage theft and sexual harassment class action lawsuit brought on behalf of casino workers at Thunder Valley Casino. (Medina v. Station Casinos, et al.)
- Serving Up Justice at the Diner. Along with co-counsel Sundeen, Salinas & Pyle, we successfully represented the women wait staff of Lori’s Diner, a restaurant chain in San Francisco, in a lawsuit over the egregious sexual and racial harassment they experienced at work. (Donaldson v. Lori’s Diner)
- Equal Opportunities for Professional Development. ERA and co-counsel The Impact Fund successfully settled a class action lawsuit against Sacramento Regional Transit District, whose sexist training and selection practices resulted in the hiring, professional development, and promotion of less qualified men to the most desirable and highest paying jobs, excluding equally qualified women. (Brown v. Sacramento Regional Transit District)
- Phoning in Pensions after Pregnancy Discrimination. We sued AT&T in a class action lawsuit (Hulteen v. AT&T) because female employees who took pregnancy leave before the 1979 Pregnancy Discrimination Act were forced to take personal leave without “service credit” for their missed days of work, whereas employees who took temporary disability leave for other illnesses accumulated service credit. As the women began to retire, they receive lower pensions than they are entitled to and/or did not qualify for early retirement packages.
- Super Sexism at Superstore. ERA and co-counsel The Impact Fund, Cohen Milstein Sellers Toll, PLLC, and others brought a class action sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart (Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores), challenging the retail giant’s policies and practices of denying equal pay and promotion opportunities to its women workers.
- Don’t Do Your Homework. ERA and the Asian Law Caucus brought and settled the first-ever lawsuit to challenge illegal homework practices in the electronics assembly industry (Kamsan Mao v. Top Line Electronics and Lite-On), bringing public attention to this common illegal practice and educating immigrant workers about their rights.
- TGI Fair & Harassment Free. As part of our targeted legal strategy in the restaurant industry, we successfully settled a sexual harassment case on behalf of two African-American women servers at TGI Fridays. (McIntyre and Hibbitts v. Main Street and Main Street Incorporated d/b/a TGI Fridays)
- Rights for Adoptive Parents. We sued U.C. Santa Cruz on behalf a female faculty member who was fired after taking parental leave to adopt and care for her first child. (Lundy v. University of California, Santa Cruz) Our successful settlement resulted in back pay and benefits for the client.
- 10,000 Moms Get Justice. After 13 years of litigation, ERA and co-counsel settled this pregnancy discrimination lawsuit over the Pacific Bell’s denial of early retirement benefits to workers who took maternity leave. (Pallas v. Pacific Bell) The case covered a class of nearly 10,000 women with a settlement of more than $25 million.
- Dignity for Offshore Clothing Makers. In a lawsuit brought on behalf of Thai and Latino immigrant workers contracted by U.S. garment manufacturers (Does 1-8 v. ASC Fashion, US Boys, et al), our settlement resulted in the manufacturers agreeing to monitor all independent contractors to ensure they comply with wage and hour laws and workplace safety regulations.
- Protection from Toxic Fumes at Work. After she was rushed to the hospital for acute chemical fumes exposure, ERA brought a lawsuit on behalf of Maria Theresa Gonzalez over her employer’s failure to provide adequate ventilation and monitor workers’ exposure to toxic fumes. (Gonzalez v. Rubber Stampede) Her employer also retaliated against Maria for reporting the hazardous conditions to OSHA. The lawsuit was the first to rely on California’s anti-toxic initiative (Proposition 65) to assert these employment claims.
- Landmark Win for Undocumented Pregnant Workers. Alongside the Asian Law Caucus and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), ERA won a landmark federal case on behalf of Alicia Castrejon, an undocumented worker whose pregnancy discrimination lawsuit raised the issue of undocumented workers’ rights under federal anti-discrimination law. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, A. Castrejon v. Tortilleria La Mejor) The ruling resulted in thousands of undocumented immigrant workers receiving legal protection against discrimination.
- Ending Sexist “Fetal Protection” Policy. ERA and several public interest law organizations submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging “fetal protection” policies used by employers nationwide to exclude women from high-paying industrial jobs traditionally dominated by men. (United Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls) The Court’s landmark ruling found fetal-protection policies to be a form of sex discrimination forbidden under Title VII.
- California Family Rights Act. We played a key role in passage of this law, which provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to care for their 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 followed two years later.
- Federal Equal Pay Loophole Closed. In this important pay equity case, ERA challenged the federal government’s policy of setting employee salaries based upon earnings in previous jobs, a practice that institutionalized and perpetuated sex- and race-based wage discrimination. (Bell v. Kemp)
- Ending Sub-Minimum Wage. Working with the Coalition for a Fair Minimum Wage, ERA and other public interest law groups and unions challenged the subminimum wage for tipped workers, two-thirds of whom are women, resulting in the California Supreme Court declaring the subminimum wage illegal. (Henning et al. v. Industrial Welfare Commission)
- Extinguishing Discrimination. After a 5-year challenge to the discriminatory hiring policies of the San Francisco Fire Department, the City signed a Consent Decree that included hiring and promotional goals for women and people of color, one of the first decrees to have specific goals for women of color. (Davis et al. v. City and County of San Francisco)
- Leave for Pregnancy/Childbirth Disability. Agreeing with an amicus brief filed by ERA, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to uphold a California law requiring employers of five or more to provide up to 4 months of unpaid leave to women disabled by pregnancy or childbirth. (California Federal Savings & Loan v. Department of Fair Employment and Housing)
- Shattering the Blue Glass Ceiling.ERA sued the City and County of San Francisco on behalf of Louette Colombano, a 9-year veteran of the city police force, who was subjected to severe, life-threatening harassment, including extreme sexual harassment, alongside other women officers in the city’s first class to include women police recruits. (Colombano v. City and County of San Francisco) After a fraught public lead-up, we reached a $800,000 settlement for Louette on the eve of the trial.
- Forest Services Branches Out. We brought a class-action sex discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (Bernardi v. Yeutter), resulting in a consent decree with inclusive hiring goals and the creation of a $1.5 million affirmative action fund.
- Employers Liable for Sexual Harassment. ERA sued Bank of American on behalf of an employee who experienced egregious sex and race discrimination at work (Miller v. Bank of America). This landmark lawsuit extended existing legal precedent to include sexual harassment, resulting in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that employers are liable for injury inflicted by a supervisor.
- Government Must Hire Women Contractors. ERA and co-counsel negotiated a landmark Consent Decree requiring the Secretary of Labor to establish goals and timetables for hiring women federal contractors. (Advocates for Women v. Usery)
- Lessons on Fairness. ERA appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge a school district’s forced maternity leave policy and the denial of accrued sick pay for pregnancy-related disabilities. (Berg v. Richmond Unified School District) Following remand by the Court, a settlement was reached.
- Driving Change at Greyhound. ERA successfully challenged Greyhound’s policy of excluding qualified women bus drivers through minimum height and weight requirements. (Mueller v. Greyhound Lines West) As a result, Greyhound eliminated the sexist requirements and established female hiring goals.
- Protecting Incarcerated Women. We sued Contra Costa County over its practice of incarcerating all women prisoners in the maximum-security jail, while assigning nearly all sentenced men to a minimum-security facility. (Phelps v. Ramsay)
- Setting Ground for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. ERA co-founder Wendy Williams argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the state cannot deny disability insurance coverage to women disabled by pregnancy. (Geduldig v. Aiello) The Supreme Court ruled in favor of discrimination that day, but victory came 4 years later, when Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
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