Friday, July 31, 2015

Why Corporate America Should Pay Close Attention to This $185 Million Pregnancy Discrimination Verdict

by Tom Spiggle
Originally Published: July 31st, 2015

Rosario Juarez says she was demoted from store manager at auto parts retailer AutoZone when she became pregnant and then fired because she filed a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. Earlier this year, a jury agreed with her.
The jury then found that AutoZone should have to pay $185 million in punitive damages, a record-breaking amount for a pregnancy discrimination case.
This month, Juarez and AutoZone came to a settlement that is likely far below those damages but which closes off the possibility of any further appeals. Regardless, the jury's decision and the punitive damages it awarded have lessons for Corporate America and pregnant workers.
There's a lot to learn from the jury trial that ended with the largest-ever verdict to a single plaintiff in an employment case, especially if you're an employer. 
Here's a thorough look at the lessons from the AutoZone case: 
Juarez sued AutoZone in 2008, claiming, among other things, that the company discriminated against her when it demoted her from a store manager after she became pregnant and then fired her when she filed a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. 
In January 2015, after an eight-day trial, a jury of five men and three women returned a verdict finding that AutoZone had in fact discriminated against Juarez and awarded her $870,000, which included back wages--the money she would have earned had she not been demoted and fired--and for emotional distress. 
It was during this time that the seeds for a huge headache for Juarez's attorneys began. A woman on the jury approached Juarez and told her that she would "hug her later." While the juror was certainly just trying to be nice, contact between a juror and any party in a trial--including the lawyers--is a big no-no. The judge dismissed the juror from the trial. 
The defense moved for a mistrial, claiming that one of Juarez's attorneys was seen talking to the juror in the hallway both before and after she was dismissed. The judge declined to grant a mistrial, finding that no other members of the jury had been prejudiced in favor of Juarez by the actions of one juror. 
The judge then continued the trial, asking the jury to consider Juarez's argument that AutoZone should be punished by an award of punitive damages--that is, a monetary award not necessarily tied to actual damages caused by the defendant. After deliberating for approximately five hours, the jury delivered the headline-making verdict, finding that AutoZone's action so outrageous that it should be punished by having to write a check for $185 million.
But the fun didn't stop there. According to the attorney for AutoZone, Juarez's attorney talked to the jury after the verdict, told them not to talk to defense counsel, and even physically blocked defense counsel from approaching the jurors. AutoZone has claimed that a paralegal for the Juarez team invited the entire jury out for drinks.
Not long after the ink had dried on the verdict form, AutoZone filed post-trial motions, asking for a new trial and, alternatively, asking the court to throw out the punitive damage verdict as excessive.
Before the trial court could hear the case, which could take months, AutoZone dropped its appeal on July 20 as part of a settlement agreement.
What this means for pregnancy discrimination in general: 
I'll get into some of the nitty-gritty below about the proceedings in this case, but first I want to discuss what this case might mean for a pregnant woman today experiencing discrimination at work.
Juries care about these cases. 
The biggest takeaway from this case is the message the jury sent with its astounding verdict. As discussed below, Juarez has not just walked away with $185 million dollars. But the fact remains that this predominantly male jury was really upset with AutoZone. Of course, not every pregnancy discrimination case will have a story as bad as this one, and not all cases will have seven-figure damages. Still, this should give a pregnant woman today facing discrimination hope that she too can find justice. On the flip side, employers should read this case as a cautionary tale and adjust management training and practices accordingly.
Where you live matters. 
Juarez did not bring her case under the federal pregnancy discrimination law, even though she could have, but rather California's Fair Housing and Employment Act, which bars workplace discrimination. Her attorneys made that decision because federal pregnancy discrimination law limits the amount of punitive and emotional distress damages a defendant can be forced to pay. For businesses with 501 employees or more, the total cap is $300,000. The California law, in contrast, has no caps. That means the dollar figures that can force a major company to sit up and take notice vary from state to state. If Juarez's case had been heard in Virginia, which doesn't have a significant state anti-discrimination law, she would have had to sue under federal law. That would have reduced that $185 million reward to just $300,000 plus lost wages. 
Pregnant workers can't rely on administrative bodies.
Many anti-discrimination laws, like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, requires workers to first file a charge with an administrative agency like the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, or a similar state agency, before going to court. The idea is that these agencies will do an investigation and potentially resolve the case before the dispute lands in court. In rare cases, the EEOC will itself take the issue to trial. 
In Juarez's case, she first filed her charge with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. That agency did not resolve the case or litigate it for Juarez. It sent the case away by issuing a right-to-sue. That means the agency charged with enforcing the anti-discrimination law basically did nothing on a case that a jury found was egregious enough to award $185 million verdict. To be fair, it's possible that Juarez asked for the right to sue. But the point remains that administrative agencies routinely turn away good cases.
While many of these agencies have hard-working attorneys and staff trying to achieve some measure of justice, the reality is that most agencies are underfunded and understaffed. That means that many, many strong cases never get fully investigated and end with the agency simply spitting out a form "right-to-sue" letter, often leaving the pregnant employee with as little as 90 days to file in federal court. 
For employees lucky enough to have an attorney, that's not the end of the case. The attorney can file a claim in federal court to keep the case going. But many women lack those resources, or even worse, come away with the mistaken belief that they don't have a good case and give up.
Defendants will fight even strong cases.
While some employers will do the right thing and settle early when a pregnant employee brings forward a strong case, it is also the case that they'll fight them tooth and nail, especially if they're a big company with deep pockets. (Again, it's possible that Juarez declined a good-faith effort to settle the case, but that's unlikely.) At least one attorney associated with the case, who litigates frequently against AutoZone said, "This large corporation and their counsel align to run a 'scorched earth' and 'deny everything' defense in almost every case." Defendants sometimes prefer to pay their attorneys to fight a case rather than settle, even when the employee is willing to settle for a low figure so that she can put an end to the matter and move along with her life. But pregnant workers shouldn't be discouraged from pursuing their claims. There are many steps you can take short of heading straight to federal court. 
So why did AutoZone drop its appeal? 
AutoZone dropped its appeal because both sides settled the case before the court could rule on post-trial motions. This is very common. Even though Juarez just won a huge verdict, the company doesn't have to pay immediately, since it can then appeal to reduce or overturn a jury verdict. Both sides have a strong incentive at this point to just call it a day. 
Here are some common reasons a court will modify, or sometimes even overturn a jury verdict:
The jury got it wrong. 
Sometimes a judge will overturn a jury verdict in a process called Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, or JNOV, and send the case back for a new trial if he or she finds that the jury just got it plain wrong. This does not mean that the judge simply disagrees with the verdict. (In fact, it can't be the reason for overturning.) Instead, the verdict must be considered well outside of a reasonable finding based on the evidence presented. This was not really at issue in AutoZone. There was plenty of evidence that AutoZone intentionally discriminated against Juarez and then retaliated against her when she tried to stand up for herself. 
The jury awarded an excessive verdict. 
This argument is very common and was the strongest one in favor of AutoZone. Note that, even if it succeed on its argument, the judge would not overturn the verdict. The verdict would remain intact, but the judge would simply lower the dollar figure. In 2008, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case Exxon Shipping Co. vs. Baker.In that case, the judge in a post-trial hearing much criticized opinion, held that punitive damages, at least under maritime law, should not only be related to the underlying compensatory damages, but they should not exceed a 1:1 ratio. The majority also indicated, without deciding, that it would be a rare case in which the facts justified a ratio of punitive to compensatory damages award of more than 9:1. Exxon dealt with federal law and thus does not limit punitive damages under state law, but many courts have used the reasoning in Exxon to limit punitive damages in other contexts. In AutoZone, the judge in a post-trial hearing indicated that he was likely to lower the award to nine times the underlying award of $870,000. In doing so he was expressing a vote of confidence in the verdict by going to the highest of the suggested 9:1 ratio. Nevertheless, if he went with the 9:1 ratio, awarding approximately $7.8 million, that would clearly be a long way from $185 million.
Problems with jury deliberations or juror misconduct
Juries are intended to do their work in a carefully controlled environment. Jurors are to review only the evidence introduced at trial and, after receiving instructions from the judge on the law, reach a verdict after a reasoned deliberation. In most cases, some version of that happens, even if imperfectly. But it is not entirely uncommon for something to go wrong, or at least for the losing side to claim something went wrong. For instance, there was a high profile murder trial in D.C. in which the judge had to declare a mistrial when the jurors, believing they were being helpful, organized a trip to the murder scene. In AutoZone, the company argued that it was entitled to mistrial because it argued a member of Juarez's trial team had improper contact with a juror who herself had indicated some bias (even if her heart was in the right place) when she told Juarez that she would "hug her later." AutoZone claimed that Juarez's attorney spoke to this juror before the court dismissed her. The court declined that motion, finding that dismissing the juror was the proper remedy to ensure a just verdict. An issue that AutoZone could raise on appeal was that the court got this wrong and thus an appellate court should order a new trial. Chances are that AutoZone would have lost this argument. Appellate courts give trial courts wide latitude in dealing with these issues. But there was no guarantee. (Note that contact with the jurors and the attorney and other parties during a case is improper. After trial, however, it's very helpful for the advocate to talk to willing jurors. Judges sometimes encourage jurors to stay after trial in the jury room to talk to the attorneys and explain what jurors found effective and what they did not. This is enormously helpful for lawyers as an advocate often does not, beyond guesswork, understand why their side won or lost.) 
So what happened in the AutoZone case? We don't know for sure. And we will never know as the terms of the settlement are confidential. But here's what the playing field looked like. For Juarez, there was a pretty good indication that the court was going to dramatically reduce the amount of her jury verdict. There was also a possibility, however remote, that the court could grant a mistrial finding that juror contact with her attorney made the entire verdict unreliable or at least that the court failed to eliminate that possibility when AutoZone raised the issue. 
And both sides were looking at a long road ahead. Both sides had already been litigating the case for almost seven years. Taking it through post-trial motions and then the appellate stage could have taken years more, and required a lot of work for attorneys as they continued to argue the issues. During this time, Juarez, and her attorneys would get nothing. 
A settlement offered both sides something they could not get otherwise: control over the amount paid and a quick result. So, the conversation could have gone something like this:
Juarez: We beat you at trial and now you have a $185 million dollar verdict hanging over your head. We may not get all of it, but you heard the judge, we're still likely to get $7.8. And we haven't even submitted our attorneys' fees petition for $4.5 million - and that's not even including what you'll pay when we beat you on appeal. I figure you're looking at writing a check for $12.3 million. Tell you what, let's end this whole thing now. We'll accept an even $12 million.
AutoZone: The trial judge is going to drop your verdict like a stone, you may get lower than the 9:1 ratio. And even if you get 9:1, we have a great argument that the facts don't support even that award. I'm more than comfortable taking that issue up. On top of that, we've got improper contact with jury. That can't be a fun issue for you. We have a chance we'll get the entire thing tossed. Still, my client and I are ready to be done with this case. We'll offer you $5 million.
Juarez: "I disagree, but in the interest of cutting this short, I have authority to accept $10.5. But no more."
AutoZone: "Best I can do is $10, and I don't think I can talk my client into anything more."
Juarez: "I just talked to my client. She'll take 10.2 and will sign a nondisclosure."
AutoZone: "Done. I'll draw up the paperwork and send it over."
That was a gross oversimplification, at least for a case of this size. This deal likely took days and the involvement of the court, a professional mediator, and an accountant or two. But this essentially is how it probably worked. Parties reached a deal. Non-disclosures and other contracts were signed. AutoZone delivered a check (or likely checks). As part of the deal, AutoZone dismissed its challenge to the verdict. Juarez's attorneys probably got 40 percent. Juarez, as is typical in these cases, had to pay costs out of her share. Juarez then got the rest, after paying taxes, of course. Forty percent of $10 million is $4 million. That leaves Juarez with $6 million. Costs for expert witnesses, transcripts, court reporters, etc., I would guess ran in the ballpark of $500,000, leaving Juarez with a gross payout of $5.5 million. Again, that's only an educated guess. She well may have gotten an even better settlement. 
And that's how the case in which a jury awarded the largest-ever verdict to a single plaintiff in an employment case ended. Juarez may not have ultimately been able to buy a castle with her portion and she'll never get back those years she lost, but she did okay. And the rest of the country got a good lesson in why pregnancy discrimination can be a costly mistake for employers. 
Tom Spiggle is author of the new book "You're Pregnant? You're Fired: Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace," now available on Amazon. He is founder of the Spiggle Law Firm based in Arlington, Va., where he focuses on workplace law specializing in helping clients facing discrimination due to pregnancy or other family-care issues, such as caring for a sick child or elderly parent. This is Spiggle's first book. To learn more, visit:

Read the original article from Huffington Post here:

This Very Simple Computer Program Could Help Veterans With PTSD

by Alexis Sobel Fitts
Originally Published: July 30th, 2015

The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs estimatesthat between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder during any given year. As veterans return home, new research is helping design innovative treatments for them. 
recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry explores an alternative PTSD treatment, delivered via a computer screen. While it's not a new idea to tackle PTSD using computer tasks and even video games, this study tests the effects of a method called "attention control therapy," in which a computer task helps the user shift their focus away from a scary image to an assignment. 
PTSD, characterized by symptoms such as intense anxiety and hyper vigilance, operates as a miscalculation of attention. Under normal conditions, humans are able to quickly assess a situation, figure out what’s dangerous and act accordingly; but experiencing a traumatic event can disrupt this system, causing a person to interpret a slightly threatening situation as extremely threatening.
The attention control training used in this new study helped neutralize extreme responses, by forcing test subjects to redirect their attention to completing a task, even though they’d just seen something threatening.
Led by Yair Bar-Haim at Tel Aviv University, a team of researchers asked former members of the U.S. and Israeli military who suffered from PTSD to look at a series of negative and neutral images and then complete a simple task, like counting the number of dots on a screen or describing whether an arrow was pointing right or left. The images shown varied: Israeli veterans were shown words -- some with negative meanings, like “death,” juxtaposed with words that looked and sounded similar but had a neutral meaning, like “dates" -- while the American veterans were shown faces,  contorted into an hostile glare or posed in a neutral expression. 
American participants were shown photos of an angry face and a neutral face for half a second, then they were shown an arrow symbol and had to indicate whether it was pointing left or right. 
The theory is that, by completing the task repeatedly, the differences between the scary image and the neutral image diminish. Whether completing the program with faces or words, the participants who underwent the treatment showed significantly diminished PTSD symptoms after completing the therapy. According to Bar-Haim, this result suggests that the researchers are onto “a deeper mechanism” about the way PTSD functions.
Currently, Bar-Haim is exploring how to use his computer-based therapy to allow more people to have access to treatment. For example, many of the U.S. veterans in his study lived in far-flung regions of Nebraska, some traveling as much as seven hours each way to reach the lab. In these cases “it makes it very difficult for them to obtain treatment,” Bar-Haim said, which is why his team is looking into placing the program online.
But easier access doesn’t necessarily mean open access, per Bar-Haim. “I wouldn’t want to see it in the App Store,” he said. “I would want to see it prescribed by a professional.”
While Bar-Haim is working on a digital treatment to help sufferers receive care, other researchers have been experimenting with ways that computers and gaming might help in their own right.
Some doctors have used certain video games in other PTSD therapy programs. For example, first-person shooter games -- the kind of action-packed military role-playing popularized by "Counter Strike" and "Call of Duty" --  provide an amped-up version of exposure therapy, a regimen where PTSD sufferers talk through a triggering experience, eventually diminishing the memory’s effect. 

Read the original article from Huffington Post here:

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Have We Evolved to a Greater Understanding?

by Lillie Leonardi
Originally Published: July 30th, 2015

In recent weeks, our nation set aside a day to help raise awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As such, I am of the opinion that perhaps our society has indeed evolved -- especially as it relates to the effects of PTSD, an invisible injury. Those who suffer with PTSD, understand all too well how their lives are greatly altered. That is if, the individual is even willing to accept the diagnosis. 
When I was initially diagnosed with PTSD, I felt ashamed for having become ill. As a law enforcement professional, I felt betrayed by my own mind. It felt as if I had failed at my job. How could Superwoman become ill? After all, I was trained to be tough. It was drilled into me not to succumb to the emotion. And being a woman in the field, I thought it was an offense to cry! How dare I even consider showing any type of feelings while wearing the blue. It would have been a sacrilege to desecrate the uniform and badge with my salty tears. 
Yet despite my repeated attempts to deny the diagnosis, my mind began to slip into the dark abyss of depression. And when the overwhelming sadness that infiltrated my being was mixed with anxiety, it made for a prescription of a complete alteration to my life. As the illness silently crept into my being, it caused great destruction and not only from a psychological mindset, but from the physiological perspective too. I suffered with avoidance issues, emotional detachment, exaggerated startle effect, flashbacks, fibromyalgia, heart palpitations, hyper-vigilance, inflammation, migraines, negative changes in beliefs, night sweats, outbursts of anger, reoccurring nightmares and stomach ailments. These symptoms only added to my embarrassment at having become ill and my need to isolate from the rest of the world. This once vibrant individual who looked forward to each new day, froze in fear at the thoughts of having to leave my home. And when the agency that I served with labeled me as medically unable to perform my duties, the devastation to my psyche was complete. If I was not fit for duty, then in my mind, I was no longer of use to the world. I had in some way failed at my purpose to serve and protect. My identity was shattered. 
For a very long time, I delved in the mindset of isolation. Thinking that there were not many who would understand my plight. How could anyone know how it felt to transform into someone I barely recognized. On occasion, I would stand in the mirror reassuring myself it was still my image looking back. And I often wondered, if only the wounds were visible. Then perhaps, my family members, friends and the world would understand my plight. 
In my tenure as a police officer, I recall several officers who committed suicide. Although these wonderful individuals bore no visible signs of PTSD, their behaviors were indeed part of the dichotomy of the illness. This is something I have only come to learn as a result of my own journey. 
PTSD also affected every single relationship as well. Even those closest to me had a hard time comprehending my descent from my former self. I became more aloof. I avoided attending events. With my mindset, it was very hard to find the joy in life. Let alone, explain to others how I was feeling. Each time I attempted to do so, I heard the same response. What about medications or therapy? Or, just get over it! Even one of my treating doctors added insult to injury by once saying, "PTSD is the only mental illness that originates from trauma. This fact should make you feel better about yourself."
If a treating psychologist thought this statement was one to help promote healing, then the doctor obviously had no real understanding or empathy for that matter. It wasn't until I began to journal about the PTSD and it's effects on my life that I came to better understand all that was transpiring. By writing down my feelings and thoughts, I began to see a pattern of behavior that was not positive in design -- but rather, somewhat self-destructive and hindering to both my emotional and spiritual growth. 
As I have journeyed on the road to healing, I have become acquainted with so many individuals who have been afflicted with PTSD. Most are law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical service personnel and recovery workers who served on 9/11 (and the post days of reclamation) at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93 crash sites. In meeting these amazing men and women, I have come to learn that I am not alone. There are thousands of us who have individualized stories to share about how this once silent illness had permeated the beings of so many. Their plight is my plight, as it is for millions of others who bear the weight of this illness and the stigma attached to it.
So in my heart, I feel it is very timely that there is a day set aside to advocate awareness about PTSD. By doing so, the ignominy related to the illness may be better understood. And perhaps someday, there will be no need to even set aside a day. There will only be a deeper understanding and empathy for all those who have been affected by trauma. 
If you are interested in learning more about PTSD, please visit the Voices of September 11th website:

Read the original article from Huffington Post here:

Where's the Mental Health First Aid Kit?

by Dustin DeMoss
Originally Published: July 30th, 2015

Programs like Mental Health First Aid are elevating mental health in the national discourse.
We're seeing new resources in the workplace when it comes to First Aid. Next to the metal box with a red cross are defibrillators to treat heart attacks and workplace classes to instruct employees on how to use the devices properly. But there's a gap in mental health and substance use that is ignored and simply seems too complex. Not anymore. That's where Mental Health First Aid comes in.

Why is addressing mental health so difficult?
If we see someone bleeding, we know we should stop the bleeding. If someone breaks an arm or leg or has chest pains, we call 911. Mental health issues can be complicated and not as easy to detect. Oftentimes, we are reminded that we're not a trained psychologist or simply don't recognize the signs. We often conclude someone is "just having a bad day."

Bad days add up
Psychological health and physical health are equally important, and have a synergistic relationship. Someone who is physically sick can feel depressed. Someone who is depressed can be predisposed to become physically sick. Poor heart health can make your lethargic. Diabetes can affect your performance and attendance at work. An auto-immune disease can significantly compromise your ability to perform on many levels. A mental health or substance use concern can often lead to these issues, as well.

Mental Health First Aid is a step forward
A program called Mental Health First Aid is designed to give managers, human resources professionals and others the ability to identify potential mental health and substance use concerns. The publically available, skills-based, in-person training outlines a five-step action plan that equips employees with the tools they need to notice the signs and symptoms of a possible mental health or substance use concern and identify the tools and resources available to respond to a crisis, refer to supportive services, or deescalate a situation, if necessary. Employers can implement Mental Health First Aid as part of an employee engagement or workplace wellness program focused on improving whole health and wellness, as well as to address the effects of mental illness on productivity and associated costs.

Mental Health First Aid is a global initiative available in 23 countries with origins in Australia. It was adapted for the United States in 2008, where it is administered by the National Council for Behavioral Health in partnership with the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The program is available in two different packages: an 8-hour Mental Health First Aid Certification Program and a 4-hour Mental Health First Aid Course.
In July 2015, the National Council established a groundbreaking corporate collaboration with Aetna, one of the nation's leading diversified health care benefits companies, to provide Mental Health First Aid training opportunities to Aetna and its customers.

According to Hyong Un, M.D., chief psychiatric officer for Aetna Behavioral Health, "Mental Health First Aid supports the effort to fight mental health stigma in the United States. By acknowledging the issue of mental health in the workplace, the training program gives employees the tools they need to quickly identify when a fellow coworker is having an issue."

And the Federal Government has also taken notice of Mental Health First Aid's value and efficacy by introducing The Mental Health First Aid Act of 2015.
If enacted, the legislation (S. 711/H.R. 1877) would authorize $20 million for Mental Health First Aid. Under this funding, participants would be trained in:

  • Recognizing the symptoms of common mental illnesses and substance use disorders
  • De-escalating crisis situations safely
  • Initiating timely referral to mental health and substance abuse resources available in the community

Approximately $15 million was appropriated in 2014 and 2015 for Youth Mental Health First Aid - a figure which must be protected moving forward. To top it off, approximately 30 peer-reviewed studies from across the globe demonstrate the value of Mental Health First Aid. In 2014, research published in the International Review of Psychiatry showcased how Mental Health First Aid increased participants' knowledge regarding mental health, decreased negative attitudes and increased supportive behaviors toward individuals with mental health disorders. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration honored Mental Health First Aid with inclusion in its National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

Mental Health First Aid is growing 
More and more individuals are embracing the program. In fact, the National Council has trained 430,000 Mental Health First Aiders to date in the United States. The training offers some basic foundations for a new way of thinking about mental health including:

  1. Awareness of the range and types of conditions.
  2. Understanding of the fact that many of these conditions are genetic or simply a function of how someone's brain is "wired."
  3. Education as to how and why some individuals are challenged by mental health issues.
  4. Sensitivity to the person as a patient who needs treatment on the same level as someone with a physiological condition.
  5. Inclusion of the treated person or patient following an effective course of treatment in the same way we would embrace someone recovering from a surgical or other course of physical treatment and therapy.

It's about time
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.--43.7 million, or 18.6% of the population--experiences mental illness in a given year. That's why Mental Health First Aid is long overdue. Hopefully, programs like these will advance the sensitivity and treatment of mental health to the same level as conditions affecting physical health.
Taking Mental Health First Aid is a common sense, simple step every adult can take to support those who may be dealing with a potential mental illness or substance use concern. To learn more or to find a Mental Health First Aid training near you, please visit

Read the original article from Huffington Post here:

When religious freedom should take a back seat to equality rights

by Sukanya Pillay
Originally Published: July 31st, 2015

Sukanya Pillay is general counsel and executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Should we accommodate an Orthodox religious man’s request to avoid sitting next to a woman by asking the woman to switch her seat on an airplane? This is one of the questions that have arisen since reports on Monday that a Porter Airlines flight attendant asked a female passenger to move after a male passenger gestured that he could not sit beside the woman, presumably because of his religious beliefs.
There are many unknown variables in this story – but it seems that one underlying question is what should we do if there is a conflict between a religious belief and gender equality.
In my view, both rights are fundamental for a society to be grounded in respect for human dignity. Indeed, in Canada, both rights are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – but the Charter, which applies to government action, would not directly apply to a commercial airline.
Both rights are also protected by provincial human rights legislation, which applies in private-sector settings such as hotels, restaurants and even airplanes (leaving aside for the moment the jurisdictional discussion that may arise in this case, given that the incident occurred while the plane was still in New Jersey). But a solely legalistic formula isn’t getting at the underlying questions.
How far do we go to accommodate a sincerely held religious belief when it comes into conflict with the equality rights of someone else? If all rights are equal and there is no hierarchy, do we figure out these questions on a case-by-case basis? In Canada, decision-makers have ruled against a bed-and-breakfast owner who refused to rent to a gay couple. But some may ask, what about religious freedom? What about the innkeeper’s rights?
I do not find it particularly helpful to reduce human-rights protection solely to “accommodation” frameworks and the consequent “vetting” of solutions. To do so risks obfuscating the raison d’ĂȘtre of human-rights law, which is to protect and uphold individual human dignity. Throughout history, women and members of minorities (including members of religious minorities and LGBT people) have been excluded or denied their equality rights in public spaces and spheres in the name of the religious beliefs of a majority. In some countries even today, women cannot take public transportation or drive alone or attend universities. Before the civil-rights movement in the United States, black people in many jurisdictions were required to ride at the back of the bus. Interracial marriages were illegal as was homosexuality – which are still illegal in some places of the world today.
So what does this have to do with the seating request on Porter Airlines? How far should religious freedom go in this context?
Personally, I don’t think that in a public or commercial space the religious beliefs of one person can be used to deny, or relegate (intentionally or not) as inferior, the equality rights of someone else. Religious freedoms are writ large and people are free to believe what they wish, and to act as they wish, short of causing harm to another. Gender segregation can and is upheld in private religious institutions freely attended by individuals – but in public spheres we must be vigilant about upholding the equality rights of all. If we wouldn’t tolerate the refusal to sit beside a racialized person, we shouldn’t tolerate sex discrimination, either.

Read the original article from The Globe and Mail here:

7 Things We Know About Getting Men Involved in Gender Equality

by Gary Barker, Ph.D.
Originally Published: July 30th, 2015

Even though we're seeing the first serious contender for a female head of state in the United States, and high box office sales from a romantic comedy with a complex female protagonist, we're still quite a ways - at least 80 years at the current rate of change - from seeing true gender equality.
Globally, women still make 24% less than men do, experience violence at alarming rates from male partners, and do 2.5 times more unpaid care work. If we want to see this change - to see women achieve full economic, social and political equality - we need to work with men and boys as partners with women and girls. But, how? 
At Promundo, we've been working for almost 20 years, conducting research and advocacy, and implementing and scaling up programs to find out what really works when it comes to engaging men in the fight for gender equality. This is what we've discovered:
1. Challenge stereotypes: We can't change what it means to be a man without talking about it. Media, in particular, sends a wide variety of messages about how to "man up" and to "be a man" which, more often than not, involve taking sexual risks, being dominant, and being violent. We need to encourage men to deconstruct the expectations of what it means to be a man and to dare to define their own paths.
2. Approach from all angles: Talking is a great start, but we can't just work with individual men on a small scale. We need to think big - working with whole communities, as well as nationally and internationally - and to target schools, employers, health systems, and more. 
3. Get governments involved: We will never achieve gender equality without policies that support it. That means access to contraceptives and comprehensive sexuality education; it means maternity and paternity leave, non-discrimination clauses, and laws that hold perpetrators of violence and sexual assault accountable. 
4. Partner up: We can't do it alone. Working with role models, political and religious leaders, and even celebrities can help amplify messaging and impact, normalizing respect for women and creating a positive movement for change. 
5. Think about who cares: The fact that men and women are still far from equalwhen it comes to unpaid childcare and domestic work might be one of the single biggest indicators of - and obstacles to - equality. We need to push to radically redistribute care work to achieve political, social, and economic equality for women and men.
6. End the cycle of violence: When men see or experience violence as children, it's one of the strongest risk factors for them to use violence later in life. Knowing this is powerful. It means that we know we must intervene with young men and new fathers to break the cycle - and to teach the strength of non-violence from early on.
7. Work together: Engaging men does not mean silencing or ignoring women or the powerful work that women's rights groups have been doing for decades. Just the opposite. It's essential that men are thoughtful, educated allies and advocates - and for this to happen, men and women need to work together.
This blog was co-authored by Alexa Hassink, Communications Officer and Program Associate at Promundo.

Read the original article from Huffington Post here:

Five ways millennial women define career success

by Laura Dunn
Originally Published: July 30th, 2015

The story of The Millennial and how she approaches her career is everywhere. A recent New York Times article explained that millennial women are looking for balance in their lives, and expect their career and family priorities to shift over time. More often than not, millennial women are planning for this shift, adopting a ‘give and take’ approach to their careers and shaking up what it means to achieve career success. Whether they’re starting businesses, traveling across the world or simply challenging convention, millennial women are fearless in their quest for professional and personal happiness.

Here’s how millennial women are defining career success.

Controlling their path:
Millennial women are associating career success with their ability to plan for and control professional outcomes. By choosing what they want to work on and when, millennials are opting for true fulfillment. By planning for potential career breaks or travel opportunities, women are controlling their career and guiding it as they desire. The increase in millennials doing freelance work on the side illustrates this new sense of career control – and it enables women to do what they want, when they want.

Bucking tradition:
By not following in the path of their parents, millennials are changing what it means to be professionally successful. Unless she’s involved in a family business, it’s highly unlikely that a millennial echoes the career that her mother or father pursued. A study from the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University noted millennials’ individual ambitions as a primary career driver: “Millennials seem to be motivated by personal values and aspirations and less by career advancement.”

Continuing professional development is a common theme among millennial women. I observe my own friends and colleagues attending conferences, signing up for training courses and becoming members of support or learning groups. In order to ‘upskill’ you need to always be on the lookout for the next opportunity or helpful course that can transform your way of working. I regularly attend conferences and workshops to broaden my mind, meet new people and learn new skills to offer my clients.

Millennial women are using connections to their advantage. Networking is vital for every professional, but particularly for women who struggle with confidence or haven’t realized their professional value. Beyond building confidence, networking leads to mentors, sponsors and even business opportunities. I regularly attend networking events and always set goals in advance and think of what I’d like to get out of the experience. Many millennials are also using networking as a way of finding influence and guidance outside of their day job, particularly if they are looking to start a business or move into another career.

Seeing the world:
Millennials are embracing travel as a way to broaden their perspectives and define their professional path. Financial planner Kate Holmes revealed that millennials are adept at saving money, and are often using these funds to travel the world now and not when they’re in their 70s. I’ve been fortunate to travel, and nothing has expanded my mindset and increased my work opportunities more than travel. Since a bulk of my work is conducted outside of where I currently live, ‘thinking globally’ has transformed my life. Millennial women are incorporating travel into their lives more and more – and it’s paying off as they navigate their careers.

Laura Dunn specializes in content creation, social media and bespoke PR, and works with brands, organizations and individuals in both the USA and the UK. Laura started blogging in 2008, creating her blog Political Style. Laura writes for The Huffington Post, Fortune and many other publications. You can follow Laura on Twitter here: @lauraemilyd.

Read the original article from MSNBC here: