SHARE THE WEALTH
by Ellen Yacknin
Picture this: Susan Winston, an assembly-line worker at Big Macho, Inc. (Big Mac for short), has worked hard at her job for 12 years. She finally realizes that all her male co-workers are being promoted and getting raises. Meanwhile, here's Susan, sorting her widgets day after day, and not getting anywhere. She gets up enough nerve to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the agency charged with enforcing the employment provisions of the federal human rights acts). Eventually, the EEOC awards Susan a promotion and $4,543.63 in back pay.
Now picture this: Susan, Big Mac, and Widgets in the same big, unhappy relationship. This time, however, instead of filing a complaint with the EEOC on behalf of herself alone, Susan comes to Working Women United to ask what whe can do. WWU files a class action complaint with the EEOC on behalf of not only Susan, but every woman who used to work at Big Mac, every woman who currently works at Big Mac, and every woman who may end up working there in the future. This time, Susan's name isn't even used; she remains anonymous throughout the whole investigation. The Big Wheels at Big Mac never even suspect that it was their own Susan Winston who raised the complaint in the first place. This time, when the EEOC hands down its decision in favor of the women at Big Mac, it awards $174,298.75 in back pay to all affected women, and forces Big Mac to institute a training/promotion procedure for all women at the company to prevent sex discrimination from occurring again.
The difference between these two scenarios is staggering. $100,000 awards are not simply dreams. They are possible for large groups of people in what are called class action suits. Some of the main features of class action suits are: (1) It costs nothing to file a complaint with the EEOC;
(2) If you file through an organization such as WWU you can remain anonymous—your name will become public only if and when you give your written release; (3) You and WWU may file a complaint on behalf of other women without seeking their permission to do so. The other women will be notified of the action later; (4) Neither you nor WWU needs to provide all the information and proof related to the discrimination. The EEOC is charged with making its own investigation.
Because class actions are painless and because they can help so many people, they are potentially one of the most powerful tools we have. Working Women United is ready to act! We can organize the best tactics, and we will locate a lawyer who might work with us on a contingent fee basis. If you are aware of any instances of sexual harassment or discrimination, please contact WWU immediately through H.A.P.: 256--5299. We will talk to you and discuss what we can do together to fight work related sex discrimination in Tompkins county.
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