Since it came out a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the website Microaggressions. The website attempts to create a dialogue around the way small interactions about race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or other characteristics can have enormous impact on an individual’s lived experience. According to the website, “microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, they communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative…slights.” The website is filled with stories of comments and experiences that make submitters feel “erased,” “ignored” or like they don’t matter.
While many of these incidents may seem minor in isolation, put together – and depending on the surrounding circumstances – they can rise to the level of bullying or harassment. This is a particular problem in schools. I certainly remember how, in middle school and high school, a small comment about my hair being frizzy or me not wearing makeup could throw off my entire day. When such comments or other conduct is severe or pervasive, it can create a hostile environment, in which the victim cannot focus on or succeed in his or her schoolwork. In educational settings, harassment is more than a hurtful inconvenience – it’s a barrier to an effective and fair learning environment. Read more »
As we approach the end of President Obama’s first term in office, it’s an appropriate time to look back and take stock of the impact the President has had on the federal bench, to date. Although, thanks to a determined minority in the Senate, there is a record number of judicial seats that remain empty, the most recent additions to the federal bench are remarkable not only for their excellence and qualifications, but also for how they are changing the face of the judiciary.
President Obama’s Administration has nominated more women and people of color for judgeships than any previous Administration in history. Overall, of the President’s confirmations, approximately 43% have been women, more than twice the rate under the previous Administration. In fact, more women have been confirmed to the federal bench in President Obama’s first term than during President George W. Bush’s entire presidency. As a result, even with the vacancies, the percentage of active women judges on the federal bench has increased from slightly above 25% to over 30% since 2009.
The Administration also broke gender barriers by confirming six women as the first woman judges ever to serve on their district court, and five more as the first woman circuit judge in their state. And it must be noted, of course, that for the first time in history, three women serve on the Supreme Court at one time. President Obama’s nomination of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan created that exciting breakthrough.
Tuesday, two more federal district court judges, John Dowdell (Northern District of Oklahoma) and Jesus Bernal (Central District of California) were confirmed by the Senate. This follows on the heels of confirmation votes on four district court judges last week, and, potentially one or more votes this afternoon. Although some commentators have characterized these votes as progress, which I suppose it would be as a relative matter, it's important not to forget the Senate minority's blockade of confirmation votes in the months preceding the election: for example, Senate Minority Leader McConnell announced in mid-June that no more circuit court nominees would receive a vote until after the elections, and backed it up with a filibuster of the nominee to an Oklahoma seat on the 10th circuit in July. Further, Senate Republicans only allowed votes on three district court nominees in September. And it's not as though the votes were coming fast and furious before June. Read more »
Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Michael Shea to the District Court of Connecticut. He had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and thus ready for a vote before the full Senate on April 26, 2012 – over seven months ago. So for seven months, the people of Connecticut have been contending with an overburdened federal court system while a minority of the Senate refused to allow a vote on now-Judge Shea’s nomination.
As an article in the Hartford Courant detailed, “Two of Connecticut's eight federal judgeships are vacant and some of a half-dozen or so semi-retired senior judges – two of whom are 88 years old – carry substantial caseloads.” The article went on to note that “The shortage in Connecticut has not been classified an emergency. But federal litigants in the state now depend on jurists from states such as Arkansas, South Dakota and Montana to preside over scores of their civil trials.” Read more »
While we only know of one woman who made sure to cast her vote even though her water had broken and her contractions were five minutes apart, she was far from alone in her determination to make her voice heard at the polls yesterday in an election season where women’s health, reproductive rights, and fair pay were frequent flashpoints. Women made up the majority of the electorate on Tuesday—53 percent. Unmarried women were 23 percent of voters, up from 20 percent in 2008. And women’s votes were key to yesterday’s results.
With a few races too close to call, there will apparently be between 75 and 79 women in the House of Representatives, up from 73 currently serving. There will be 20 in the Senate, up from 17 currently serving. This means that women will comprise about 18 percent of the next Congress, up from under 17 percent in the current Congress.
Other historic achievements last night:
Senator-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI) became the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the Senate and Hawai’i’s first female Senator.
Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) became the first openly gay person to be elected to the Senate and Wisconsin’s first female Senator.
In a move that should outrage even the hardest-hearted cynic, yesterday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow votes on 17 district court nominees, even though almost all were reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without objection, and 12 of them have been nominated to courts that are so overwhelmed that the vacant seats have been designated “judicial emergencies.” Many have been waiting for months for a vote on the Senate floor. And confirming these nominees would have reduced the number of judicial vacancies by over one-fifth. Read more »
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in the Senate today.
When I tell people about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, they are often taken aback that there is a need for this legislation. I get it: it seems like common sense that employees should not be punished for needing medical accommodations like more frequent breaks to drink water, or a stool to sit on behind a cash register.
Yet, stories from across the country make clear that pregnant workers desperately need the protections offered by the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical accommodations, just as they do now for employees with disabilities. Pregnant workers have been forced onto unpaid leave – or even fired – simply for asking for accommodations like a bathroom or water break. When pregnant workers have challenged these decisions in court, they have lost. This is because courts have held that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not explicitly require employers to provide accommodations for pregnant workers – a loophole the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would close. Read more »
All they needed were minor adjustments to continue safely working during pregnancy. They didn’t get these adjustments. And they all lost their jobs because of it.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would put an end to this absurdity. Senators Bob Casey and Jeanne Shaheen will introduce the bill in the U.S. Senate today. Representative Jerrold Nadler introduced the PWFA in the U.S. House of Representatives in May, and it now has more than 100 co-sponsors. Public health organizations, business organizations, women’s organizations, worker organizations, and religious groups have lined up in support as well.
The PWFA would make it illegal to fire a pregnant employee who requests a reasonable accommodation – such as a water break, bathroom break, or modification of a lifting requirement. Pregnant workers would have the same rights to temporary accommodations on the job that are available to workers with disabilities.
Why do we need this bill? Stories like the ones above sound like they are from the Dark Ages, right? Before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 made it illegal to discriminate against pregnant workers, women were expected to quit their jobs when they became pregnant. Back then, pregnancy was widely regarded as a disabling condition. Read more »