It’s practically drilled into our brains from birth (and perhaps earlier). Girls are sugar and spice and everything nice, boys are slugs and snails and puppy dog tails. Such attitudes, held by many men and women alike, perhaps subconsciously, underlie beliefs about women’s abilities to perform certain types of work—notably science, and technology. Its very common for men to think that only men can roll their sleeves up and dig into a complicated project.
But history has shown us that women are just as capable of kicking butt and contributing to humanity’s understanding of science and technology as men. A few examples of great women in science and tech include Ada Lovelace, believed to have written the first computer program in 1842, Marie Currie the first woman to win a Nobel Prize thanks to her research on radioactivity, and pharmacologist Gertrude B. Elion, whose work led to the development of immunosuppressive drugs used for organ transplants.
While a research library could be filled with books discussing the complexities of why more men thrive in the medical, scientific and technological fields, it’s a safe assumption to say that discrimination against women plays a significant role. And whether a person agrees with that assessment or not, discrimination in employment based on gender is against both state and federal law.
A Recent Example
Last week, La Jolla Patch reported that Beverly Emerson, a renowned molecular biologist is suing her employer, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Emerson alleges that the Institute has long engaged in discriminatory practices against women. Two other biologists employed by the Institute, Vicki Lundblad and Katherine Jones, also sued in recent weeks on similar grounds.
Emerson, who’s well known in scientific circles for her work on a protein that suppresses tumors, told Patch the Institute operates as “an antiquated boys club” that undermines and marginalizes tenured female professors. She’s been employed at the Institute for 31 years.
“After decades of trying to work within the administrative structure to resolve these issues, I agree with my colleagues that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the blatant discrimination that exists against female full professors in the Salk Culture,” Emerson said.
Emerson’s lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, alleges that the Institute pays women less than their male counterparts, and promotes them more slowly as well. Emerson’s attorney, Alreen Haeggquist alleged that Salk Institute leadership has been aware of the problem for more than a decade. In the lawsuit filed by Lundblad and Jones, the scientists alleged that the Institute pressured them to downsize their laboratories despite the womens’ success in bringing in research money.
What the Law Says About Gender Discrimination
Sadly, stories about women facing gender discrimination in the science and technology fields are a fact of life. While bona fide cases of discrimination occur day after day, hard-working women in tough career situations often decide it’s better to endure harsh or unfair treatment rather than pursue a lawsuit.
If you’ve ever thought you might have reason to file a gender discrimination complaint, don’t hesitate to discuss the facts of your case with an attorney. In California, employment lawyers typically rely on the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FHEA), which provides distinct protections against gender discrimination. However, similar protections also exist at the federal level.
Section 12940 of the California FEHA law clearly states it is an unlawful employment practice; accept in certain cases, for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on gender. The law further states that it is unlawful, based on an employee’s gender, to discriminate in terms of compensation or privileges of employment.
Employees who have experienced discrimination based on their gender, and who successfully win a settlement or judgment, may be entitled to lost wages, back pay as well as reinstatement of their job (if they’ve been fired). In some rare cases, punitive damages may be awarded.
It’s important to remember however, that there are several things an employee must consider before filing a lawsuit, including the statute of limitations on certain violations of law, as well as when to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Don’t Go It Alone
Unfortunately, women in the workplace often don’t get the credit they deserve for their hard work. And despite unfair treatment, many women who have worked diligently to achieve great things in male-dominated fields such as science or technology are often inclined to keep their heads down and persevere rather than challenge the injustice.
If you’re a woman who has experienced discrimination in the workplace, it could be worth the time spent to discuss the facts of your case with a qualified attorney. Typically, employment attorneys take cases on contingency, which means clients don’t pay out of pocket expenses. In addition, employment lawyers often give free consultations.
If you have questions about gender discrimination or any other employment law question, don’t go it alone, let your voice be heard.