CommunityFDL Main Blog

Shorter Michelle Barnard: Women Bring Home Less Moolah. So?

There are times when certain pundits baffle me.  Today’s example:  Michelle Barnard, lovely, teevee friendly, frequent Hardball guest…and woefully misinformed and legally gooberish for a Georgetown Law grad.

Watch this YouTube and see if you aren’t going "wtf?!?" within mere minutes.

Pay particular attention to how rapid her vocal cadence becomes as she spews out not-well-rehearsed talking points without much convincing belief in them until she gets to the trial lawyers ooogah-boogah part, and how she stumbles across the more ludicrous and dubious bits. It’s a tell.

Let’s try to address some of the more blatantly false inanities, shall we?

BARNARD: The problem with the…with the legislation that was signed yesterday is that we don’t know what the unintended consequences will be. Number one, it tells women that you’re a victim. Number two, we don’t know what the burdens are that are going to be put on employers. Will employers all of a sudden say if I…um…uh…maybe I should hire less women..uh…fewer women in the workplace because they might sue me twenty, thirty, forty years from now. Uh…Insurance is going to go up. Um…what is the negative impact this could possibly have on women?

Victim? Yes, I can see how giving women an opportunity to right a deliberate wrong perpetrated against them simply because they have boobies makes them a victim. As if being paid less because of their uterine-impaired status is so awesomely empowering and correct, and that discriminatory employers should just be able to keep that going with abandon as an empowering moment for the sisterhood. Mmmmm Hmmmmm.

Moving on from that logical blip, though, we get to the crux of Michelle’s argument: that companies will stop hiring women because they’ll be afraid to get sued.

Newsflash: if companies stop hiring women simply because they are women? They will get sued.

It’s called gender discrimination. We have these things I like to call "laws," among which are the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Here’s an excerpt from the latter, specifically from Title VII:

SEC. 2000e-2. [Section 703]

(a) It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer –

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

And, hard as it may be to believe for a law school graduate with years of legal practice at Patton Boggs and more years of work at an organization which styles itself the "Independent Women’s Forum," this has been the law of the United States and enforced by the EEOC since…um…1964.

Information. It’s useful.

Moving forward in the show:

MATTHEWS: …You predict there will be nuisance litigation?

BARNARD: I think there will be…this is a payday for trial lawyers. I think they’re gonna be very happy. I think we’re gonna see the shuttle gates open up to all kinds of litigation, some of which will have merit and some of which will not.

Oooooh, the scary trial lawyers. Litigating cases with merit against discriminatory, law-breaking employers. Meaning there are employers out there discriminating based on gender if the cases have merit? Say it ain’t so! Doesn’t that undercut the whole premise of Michelle’s arguments?!?

But she goes on:

BARNARD: But see that…uh…the problem with that is that it’s a red herring. People say that this is about equal pay. That women earn 77 cents on the dollar for every dollar that a man earns, and it’s…just not necessarily true. If you go in and do the analysis, there are a lot of reasons…sex discrimination does exist, we’re not saying that it doesn’t exist, but there are a lot of reasons that women might earn less. If you decide you want to work for a nonprofit instead of working for a Fortune 500, you’re gonna earn less money. If you come out of the workforce for 10,15,20 years to raise your kids, you’re gonna earn less money. That’s not sex discrimination. So to say that this bill is a champion of women’s rights and the federal government is looking out for women is completely incorrect — it’s just not true. And we do our daughters a disservice and our sons truly a disservice when we say this is great legislation.

Good lord, where to start. Michelle is correct that there is difficulty calculating the pay differential because there are varying disparities among low wage, median wage and more highly-specialized and skilled wage jobs. Arguments abound on how to calculate that pay differential among sexes and races in order to get a clear picture of wage disparities across similar industry/job placements over time.

There is also a vast difference between pay equity issues and "median wage" disparities.

A good place to start on these issues is some more recent studies done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think tank that has been analyzing gender pay issues for quite a while and publishes well-documented reports for peer review. Their "Still A Man’s Labor Market: The Long-Term Earnings Gap" (PDF) lays things out in simple, explanatory terms even a pundit could understand. Their more recent fact sheet on the gender wage gap is equally straightforward.

For some substantive analysis and comparative argument, Alas, A Blog has done a wage gap series that hits a lot of this. Bottom line: Michelle confuses apples and bacon, deliberately or inadvertently, to make her arguments seem more robust.

But the Ledbetter Act only deals with an apples to apples comparison — equal pay for equal work under current legal guidelines for comparison’s sake. Period.

I could keep going…because Michelle certainly does…but why? The law requires that women not be paid less simply because they have boobies. If it’s a negotiated salary in which the woman dickers for a lesser pay in exchange for more family flex time and other benefits? Then she doesn’t have a discrimination claim.

If the woman is being paid less because her boss thinks women are worth less and there are documented e-mails in which he says that she’s worth less because she’s not a man and men deserve more pay? What part of that isn’t utter crap? Especially for women who are heads of household, trying to support their families and eventually living on lower pension funds, too, than their male counterparts who did the same job? It isn’t just a few weeks of discrimination — this adds up to a hefty differential over a lifetime. What part of that seems fair to Michelle?

This isn’t rocket science folks, and it sure as hell isn’t new. And as the fellow mother of a daughter and fellow attorney, I cannot believe I have to tell another woman why it’s neither legal nor okay.

Previous post

Even-Handedness, Foreshadow of Real Change?

Next post

SEX in an Ex-Gay Program

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com