Speaking of Women's Rights: 09/10

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Savoring Victory on the Court
(as well as in the courts)

For sports fans in Seattle, it’s been a dry year . . . er, decade.

Mariners? Ouch.

Seahawks? Don’t think so.

Sonics? Who remembers them?

Sounders FC? Maybe, but holding your breath is hazardous to your health.

If you’re a real sports lover, however, you’re still feeling the high from the stupendous display of athleticism, sportsmanship, and teamwork put on by the women of the Seattle Storm, who swept through the WNBA playoffs without losing a game. For that matter, they never lost a game at home this season. Now THAT’S sports at its best.

Which started me wondering: What distinguishes the Storm from the other pro sports teams, and what can we learn from those differences? Plenty, and all without resorting to catty comments about spoiled pro male athletes. First off, there’s the ownership. These are women who are not in it for the money (just ask them how their investment is paying off financially). They are in it because they love sports. Three of the four played sports in college, all in the very early days of Title IX. They are fans first, team owners second, and they stepped forward to keep the team in town. (I confess, we revere all the Storm owners, but are especially proud of Anne Levinson, who served on this organization’s Board of Directors in the 1980’s.)

Compare that to the owners of the various men’s pro teams. Sure, Paul Allen also stepped forward to keep the team in town, but neither he nor the others seem to have the passion for sports that makes them vibrate with enthusiasm and commitment, the way you can see the Storm owners do during games. Somehow you get the feeling the baseball and football owners (and not just in Seattle) revel in the ‘being the VIP’ status, and there’s no question the long-term financial benefits are significant. Okay, props to Drew Carey and the Sounders FC ownership: they too love the game and appreciate the fans.

Then there’s the thoughtful team-building, permitting CEO Karen Bryant and Coach Brian Agler to take their time bringing together the players to complement Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird --- and thereby also emerge as stellar players in their own rights. This is playing for keeps, and not racing around after this year’s brass ring.

Why does this matter? Well, four days after the Storm took the championship, some of us celebrated the anniversary of Billie Jean King’s defeat of Bobby Riggs, which some view as a catalyzing event for women in sports and just as important, for the credibility of women’s sports. Billie Jean showed the world that women athletes are just that: athletes. Not girls in skirts, not dilettantes marking time until tea and crumpets are served, but strong, committed, talented athletes.

Compare the hoopla and the large serving of condescension surrounding the King-Riggs match with the respect, admiration and downright awe Jackson, Bird, Cash and the others receive and deserve. It makes those of us who played sports long ago (track and field, if you must know) and those of us who didn’t but longed to, or who felt we would be despised (and were often right), or who enjoy being fans without playing, smile and be thankful for the role models --- on and off the court --- that these amazing young women are for our community and our country. And for all of us at Legal Voice, where our very first case was about equity in athletics, it rings a bell of vindication and celebration. Go Storm!

Photo by the Associated Press.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rights vs. Rights:
The debate on pharmacy refusals continutes

Let’s say I am vegan. For ethical reasons I eat and use absolutely no meat products. I also work as a cashier at the local food co-op. When my customers come through the line with a slab of bacon, I tell them that my conscience will not allow me to sell it to them.

Would I be allowed to do this?

A recent decision by the Washington State Board of Pharmacy to rewrite an existing rule that requires a pharmacy to dispense medication on-site and in a timely manner is sparking quite a debate in the comments section of the Board of Pharmacy website. On the one side there are those who argue that maintaining access to prescriptions for all patients is imperative and that delays in access can often cause dire consequences. On the other side, we are reminded of the efficacy of the free market, the fact that our country was founded on religious freedom, and - of course - that emergency contraception is an abortifacient (that great myth that will surely outlive us all). Let’s take these piece by piece:

The Free Market Argument

Has anyone heard of the FDA? The Food & Drug Administration regulates - you guessed it - our food and our drugs. If you make and sell certain food products, you are required to include nutrition information. Certain drugs are illegal and cannot be sold by anyone at anytime; some drugs may be sold over-the-counter; other drugs may be sold only be prescription. The FDA does not care whether you (or your business for that matter) think that a particular drug is safe for consumption. It creates a set of rules that apply to various drugs, restricting what can and cannot be sold. Same deal with the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has a whole page of regulations that businesses must comply with. The Washington State Health Department compels anyone serving food to keep cold foods at a certain temperature, to have hot running water, and about eighty other things that your establishment can be shut down for not doing. Need I go on?

So then, we have established that our “free market” is not so free. There are regulations; there are rules; there are general standards that we have agreed to live by, no matter what our individual morals or preferences. There may be many occasions when regulations conflict with a person’s conscience. Are we willing to allow non-compliance with each instance? And what are the consequences for others when that happens? Doesn’t that then take their personal freedom away or potentially threaten their safety?

Religious Freedom

If I remember correctly, our forefathers were reacting to religious oppression when constructing the constitution. There are two sides to the religious freedom coin: a right to practice one’s religion, and the right to choose not to practice a particular religion. I would argue that denying a person a drug that has been lawfully prescribed violates the latter. By refusing to dispense a person’s medication you are forcing them to comply with your own personal beliefs. But no matter how you see it, the current Board of Pharmacy rule requires the pharmacy to make sure patients get their medications - so the pharmacy can work with the objecting pharmacist to plan for how to make sure their exercise of conscience doesn’t harm someone else. We can respect individual religious beliefs, without imposing hardship on people who need medications.

Emergency Contraception

The fact that emergency contraception is not an abortifacient is almost irrelevant in this debate. The scope is so much wider than one particular drug. Imagine what would happen if a pharmacy were allowed to make decisions about the drugs that you may and may not have based on its own personal preferences, instead of professional judgment. Where does it end? What if your pharmacist doesn’t believe in antibiotics, or antidepressants, or __________ (fill in the prescription you pick up from your local pharmacy monthly)?

I’m all for individuals making decisions based on their moral code. What I have a problem with is forcing others to also play by the rules of that person’s conscience. As a society we are constantly creating a play-book that we all agree to follow along with. Because if we all acted exactly as each of us desired individually, we would have utter chaos. And if I have it right, that’s not exactly what we’re going for.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Next Workplace Struggle

Today the media --- print, electronic, social --- abound with stories about Labor Day: how it started, what it means, is it still relevant, who are today’s workers, the future of the workplace. While most of us treat the holiday as that last day off before the long slog toward winter, this year it behooves us to look a little deeper.

We’ve heard that men have lost more jobs than women in the recession, and given the drastic drop in manufacturing and construction, traditional strongholds for working men, that’s a logical result. But it doesn’t mean women are skating to prosperity. Nor that women are benefiting at the expense of men. Far from it.

Rather, while job loss is happening to all workers, even when they have employment, women continue to experience profound discrimination. Sometimes it’s pay disparity, the same old-same old story. Which is why we hope the U.S. Supreme Court will affirm the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that women employed by Wal-Mart may bring their sex discrimination lawsuit as a class action.

But apart from blatant discrimination, there are other, more insidious forces at work. The demands we make of all workers in this 365/24/7 society, combined with stereotypes about women, compel difficult, often impossible choices. Why is it the last three women nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court were single women without children? What does that say about success?

And how can it be that some of the companies most-lauded as ‘family friendly’ are in fact hotbeds of sex discrimination? Here’s how it can be: we still think parents – especially mothers – can’t function as full workers. Their attention will be diverted, whisper evil little voices. They won’t really do as much work as a non-parent. They will probably quit soon anyway. Nonsense.

Setting aside the fact that most families need two incomes (even when they are single-parent families), these stereotypes are false and damaging. That’s why Legal Voice is proud to represent Norma Maxwell, who was first treated abominably by her employer while she was pregnant (requiring her to apologize to her co-workers for her ‘bad attitude’ and assure them she was happy to be pregnant), and ultimately fired because her employer believed (and stated under oath) that there was “no way Ms. Maxwell could put in four hours of work if she worked from home”. This was notwithstanding the fact that she had worked from home with a child before.

Mothers and fathers who embrace their roles as parents and workers deserve our support. Our society would be far better off if we not only accepted, but admired and respected them.

Ms. Maxwell's trial starts on Tuesday, September 7th. Great timing, I think. Here’s to workers everywhere: Happy Labor Day!