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Tuesday
Jun212011

Workplace Discrimination: Transparency Key in Fight for Equality

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in the Walmart case, women across the country are re-examining the weapons they have in the fight against discrimination in the workplace. According to a new study, transparency is one of the best ways to battle inequality.

"More transparency almost always helps in fighting sex discrimination and other forms of discrimination because it exposes what the employer is doing," said Suzanne Goldberg, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia University. "Increased transparency is almost always a good thing because when hiring and promotion processes are more open there is less room for discrimination to flourish."

The study, from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, uncovered that secrecy is the norm in the private sector. Sixty percent of private sector employees are discouraged or forbidden from discussing their pay, reveals the study. This may be one of the reasons the pay gap between men and women is 23 percent in the private sector, while in the federal government, where transparency is mandated, the gap is only 11 percent.

Although the Walmart case struck a blow against class-action lawsuits, Goldberg says it just means that going forward cases will need to be more focused to succeed.

"This is not doomsday for sex discrimination class action. It does mean discrimination suits will be brought on a smaller scale, either on a per store or per unit basis, but sex discrimination suits will continue and will continue to force change in workplaces," Goldberg told ABC News. "I expect sex discrimination lawsuits to continue for as long as sex discrimination continues in workplaces, which unfortunately will be for the foreseeable future."

Goldberg said one of the most important things women can do is know what resources are available to them.

"It can be a very challenging process to bring a discrimination suit, which is why there are so few suits relative to the amount of discrimination in the workplace," she told ABC News. "The best first step for an employee that cannot afford a lawyer is to go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is the federal agency that enforces Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination law. Or to go to a state or local human rights commission that enforces state and local law because those agencies can sometimes provide lawyers to aid in bringing cases."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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