Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality

By Raymond F. Gregory | Go to book overview

Ten
Discrimination against
Women with Children

Since women first entered the U.S. workplace, employers have treated women with children differently from other employees. In 1908, when the Supreme Court gave its approval to an Oregon statute limiting the working hours of women (see chapter 3), its comments on motherhood and women's place in the workplace epitomized stereotypes then commonly held: “[Public opinion has produced] a widespread belief that woman's physical structure and the functions she performs in consequence thereof, justify special legislation restricting or qualifying the conditions under which she should be permitted to toil…. That woman's physical structure and the performance of maternal functions place her at a disadvantage in the struggle for subsistence is obvious. This is especially true when the burdens of motherhood are upon her.” 1 Nearly a century later, such sex stereotypes remain prevalent, albeit modified in form. Working mothers remain subject to significant restrictions on advancement to higher positions in the workplace.

Shortly after World War II, for example, the Edwin L. Wiegand Company in Pennsylvania initiated a policy of discharging female employees upon marriage and of refusing to hire women who were married. The policy was necessary, according to Wiegand's management, to provide jobs for male “bread winners” returning from the war. 2 At the time, the policy was lawful, and it remained lawful until July 2, 1965, the effective date of Title VII.

The EEOC later adopted regulations providing workplace protection specifically for married women: “The Commission has determined that an employer's rule which forbids or restricts the employment of married women

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