55 Years Later… What you, the employer, can do today about workplace discrimination.

The law of the land has, for 55 years, prohibited employers from discriminating in the workplace because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Despite this federal regulation, some estimates predict that it will not be until 2059 that men and women reach wage parity. But wage parity is not the only dinosaur women in business still face today. Characterizations of workplace behaviors, which would be applauded and rewarded if exhibited by men, are still cause for reprisals and reasons not to advance women.

On September 24, 2019, a Wall Street investment firm executive alleged, in a 32-page complaint filed in Federal Court in New York, that she was subjected to blatant acts of gender discrimination, including less pay for equal work. She claims when she brought her concerns to the firm, she was neither taken seriously nor treated with respect. Instead, she was chastised for causing tension and being aggressive[1]; and ultimately fired. Her termination came one week after commenting about the “boys’ club” environment fostered by the firm.

It has been 30 years since the United States Supreme Court called out employers for using the word “aggressive” when referring to working women. Justice William J. Brennan wrote in an opinion in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins,[2]


An employer who objects to aggressiveness in women but whose positions require this trait puts women in an intolerable and impermissible Catch 22: out of a job if they behave aggressively and out of a job if they do not.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was, in Justice Brennan’s opinion, the way to lift women out of this bind. It has been 55 years since the passage of Title VII, and 30 years since the Supreme Court ruled, however for some, very little has changed and women continue to be placed in this “intolerable and impermissible Catch 22.”

To create a workplace environment that fairly compensates employees and promotes equal treatment, employers must continue to strive to do better. Employers can and should implement internal procedures to insure compliance with the law. Companies should annually conduct pay audits to identify salary differentials and evaluate whether differences in pay are supported by legitimate business considerations. Amount of experience, training and performance are all valid reasons for pay differentials. Such proactive procedures serve many purposes; they assist an employer who wants to comply with the law, companies who can show compliance[3] attract top talent, reduce turnover, and provide evidence of the employer’s fair treatment of employees when facing the potential anti-discrimination claim.

Blueprints to guide the employer step by step in conducting pay-equity analysis and audits are readily available.  A simple online search reveals plans, questionnaires and, if necessary, software addressing the task.

When employers implement regular pay audits and investigate employee concerns thoughtfully, we all move closer to the workplace environment that promotes the equal treatment envisioned 55 years ago when the Civil Rights Act was implemented. In doing so, we further protect our valuable investments in our businesses, ensure growth and productivity.


[1] “Aggressive” is frequently cited as a sexist term regularly used to denigrate women. The same word, when applied to a man, is laudable.

[2] 490 U.S. 228 (1989)

[3] Not only gender pay equity; equity for all protected groups