APRIL 30 thru May 2, 2004


Contact Jacqui: jcvfa@aol.com

The Title VII conference in Boston, co-chaired by Bonnie Howard and Priscilla Leith with able assistance from Betsy Dunn, Cheryl Garrity and Marion Kilson, brought together some major participants in the early civil rights actions for women. At the opening reception Friday evening we were treated to a video of EEOC hearings in 1970 in Houston, where the organization had gone because of the high level of discrimination complaints against corporations in that city. (

Watching the video provided by Lois Herr, we were in admiration of the young William Brown, chair of the EEOC from 1969 to 1973, as he challenged corporate leaders on injustices in employment practices. Some of the testimonies from employees were heart rending, a sobering reminder of those early battles to fight injustices.

In addition to Mr. Brown, the first panel at the conference featured Aileen Hernandez (pictured right), NOW ' s second president and one of the first African-American Commissioners of the EEOC. The two discussed early battles and enlightened us on just how hard it was to get the agency to focus on gender inequality in addition to racial inequities.

Lorena Weeks of Georgia, of the landmark Weeks v. Southern Bell case won by NOW LDEF's lawyer Sylvia Roberts years ago, reminded us that corporations were adamant in sex-segregating occupations and of course paid more for male-only jobs. Did Georgians know she is famous, we asked. "Not at all," she answered. "They haven't seen the documentaries or read the books." Weeks had sued Southern Bell out of need and frustration. "I was raising three children and needed more money. Men were being paid huge salaries for doing what we could easily do, and we were told we couldn't have those jobs as we did not have the strength to carry the weight men did. If you remember, 90-pound Sylvia Roberts won that round in court by lifting a bench over her head and claiming "Women carry 40 pounds--children, groceries, etc.--every day."
(Lorena Weeks pictured left)

At the banquet that evening I greeted everyone and gave my spiel -- a short history of VFA. There was laughter when I explained one reason it was founded was because "No one was honoring us, so we decided to honor ourselves."

Keynoter Eleanor Clift of Newsweek (see her as the one woman holding her own? on Washington Week in Review), stressed positive changes in the media and gains made by women in that field because of the feminist movement. And, she said, she would never have gotten past the role of fact checker had it not been for the movement.

Sunday there were more workshops. I visited most just to get a feeling as there were always two going simultaneously. It is always Inspiring to be with veterans of our early wars-- and most still active! On panels were Sheila Tobias, VFA's Executive VP, board member Lois Herr, and member Suzanne Butler. And in the audience, Muriel Fox, VFA's board chair; Amy Hackett, VFA's treasurer; and Lee Kefauver, former Michigan activist, now a Mass. resident. And Betty Newcomb, who ran a silent auction fundraiser for VFA, turned over about $300 dollars to? Amy Hackett.

Betty and I went out that evening with Aileen, who had come from San Francisco, and that was a rare treat. We reminisced about the past, discussed the present and shared our hopes for the future.

On Sunday I visited most of the workshops, all of which gave a rundown of past and current situations. A popular one, "Alternatives to Title VII, Start Your Own Business," was run by Women Business Owners, an organization founded in NYC in 1973 by Ava Stern and other VFA members.

The workshop "Wal-Mart and Current Cases" brought us to 21st Century sex discrimination now challenged in court by women employees of the mega discount chain. Attorneys Debra Smith of Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco and Ellen Zucker, former president of Boston NOW, gave us a sobering picture of how women are still underpaid, overworked, and lacking in benefits--and reminded us that there is more work ahead.

Conference ended with lunch, after which board members stayed for a three-hour meeting chaired by Muriel Fox.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on.

What is Title VII?

It is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was meant to enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.

Title VII (Discrimination): (42 USC 2000e)

Covers all companies with 15 or more employees (Note: in some cases, parttime or temporary workers, as well as leased employees or employees of affiliates, may be included to achieve coverage).

Title VII prohibits discrimination due to race, color, religion, sex (gender), and national origin in hiring, employment (all terms, conditions and benefits), and termination. Prohibits discrimination due to pregnancy and requires that pregnancy be treated the same as any other non-work-related disability. Also bars retaliation against the person who made a complaint or assisted the complaining party.

One of the key provisions is prohibition of sexual or racial/religious/ethnic harassment by supervisors, coworkers or even by third parties. Companies usually are strictly liable for discrimination by supervisors which results in tangible loss of job benefits. Otherwise, companies normally are liable only when the company failed to make reasonable efforts to stop the harassment (at least where the company had alerted employees to their right to complain and provided a reasonable avenue to receive complaints).

Another key provision is prohibition of unintentional discrimination by use of requirements which have an adverse effect (disparate impact) on protected groups, such as use of educational requirements, tests or lifting restrictions which exclude disproportionate numbers of certain protected groups, unless the employer can prove that the requirements are job-related and that the use of these standards is required by business necessity.

Enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and by state agencies in states which have comparable civil rights laws.

Charges usually have to be filed within 180-300 days after act of discrimination, and EEOC has 180 days thereafter to process charge, after which employee can file suit. Employee also can sue within 90 days after receipt of notice of termination of proceedings by EEOC.

Damages recoverable include backpay, reinstatement (or front-pay, if degree of hostility prevents reinstatement), damages for emotional distress and punitive damages for intentional bias (the combined totals for punitives and compensatories are capped, and range from $50,000 for companies with under 101 employees to $300,000 for employers with more than 500 employees).

EEOC has issued extensive regulations which interpret this statute http://www.eeoc.gov, and also requires that display of a poster explaining rights under the act (a copy is available from the EEOC site).