States Acting against Gender Bias Reforms Aim at Protecting Women - from Single Mothers to Judges - from Discrimination

Article excerpt

A NEW look is being taken, in many states, at whether women are receiving equal treatment under the law. States are setting up task forces, beginning studies, and changing rules to ensure fair treatment.

"Because our legal system has developed from unstated male norms, it has never focused on harms to women," says Lynn Hecht Schafran, director of the National Judicial Education Program to Promote Equality for Women and Men in the Courts (NJEP).

"Gender-bias studies provide a necessary first step in the process of correcting this inherent bias by identifying many of the ways women lawyers, judges, litigants, witnesses, jurors, and court employees are adversely affected by the legal system," Ms. Schafran says.

On Nov. 16 the Judicial Council of California voted to adopt 67 recommendations of a council committee that had found widespread disparity in the treatment of men and women in the state's courts and jails. Thirty-five states have established gender-bias task forces, and 14 issue annual assessment reports, according to the NJEP, a 10-year-old organization that has provided much of the momentum behind these changes. In Massachusetts, guidelines have been developed for setting the amount of child support based on income rather than judicial discretion, as well as an assignment system that takes the child support directly out of delinquent fathers' paychecks.

"It's vastly increased the amount of money coming into the hands of those it was ordered for," says Jon Laramore, a Massachusetts assistant attorney general.

The California council recommended that law enforcement officials take domestic violence complaints more seriously. …