Workplace Justice Not “Essential” Enough
In 1981, AAUW created the Legal Advocacy Fund because we realized that defending gender equity in the workplace and in education was essential. It remains essential today. But the government agencies we need to help us do LAF’s work aren’t among the very few “essential” services still running during the government shutdown.
What’s been missing from the national conversation is the cost of the shutdown to victims of discrimination. That cost is high, and it will only continue to rise. As my co-worker Beth Scott wrote, women’s health has been treated as a political bargaining chip in the shutdown fight; now, the shutdown is threatening women’s professional and educational equity.
The shutdown has largely closed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws like the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. EEOC attorneys can’t work on their cases, almost all EEOC-led litigation is on hold, and the EEOC can’t investigate discrimination complaints. Universities and colleges accused of mishandling sexual assaults on campus are off the hook during the shutdown, because the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has been forced to suspend its investigations. And soon plaintiffs suing in federal courts, including LAF-supported plaintiffs, could face lengthy case delays: The judiciary announced last week that federal courts can only continue to operate normally for a few more days.
The shutdown is denying justice to thousands, and it’s an injustice piled on top of other injustices. LAF-supported plaintiffs — women fighting for equal pay, coaches insisting on fair treatment of female athletes, and sexual assault survivors pushing for accountability — stand the expense and personal toll of legal battles because demanding equity is essential. But that’s the point. The EEOC is essential; the OCR is essential; access to the court system is essential. Gender equity is essential, and legal advocacy is hard enough when the government is up and running. Tell Congress that the shutdown must end now.