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Liz Watson, Senior Counsel and Director of Workplace Justice for Women

Liz Watson, Senior Counsel

Liz Watson is Director of Workplace Justice for Women and Senior Counsel to the Education and Employment and Cross-cutting Teams at the National Women's Law Center. Liz focuses on ending workplace discrimination and combating the erosion of wages and working conditions in jobs at the bottom of the labor market, which are most often held by women. Liz's work includes a particular focus on achieving workplace policies that allow low-wage workers with family responsibilities to both succeed at work and in caring for their families. In 2013, Liz coauthored It Shouldn't Be A Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers, a report highlighting the persistence of pregnancy discrimination against women in low-wage and physically-demanding jobs, and employers' all too frequent failure to accommodate pregnancy in the workplace. Also in 2013, Liz coauthored 50 Years & Counting: The Unfinished Business of Achieving Fair Pay. Before coming to the Center, Liz was Executive Director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy where she led public policy initiatives focused on improving policies and programs that address the needs of low-income workers and marginalized girls and young women. Prior to that, she was legislative counsel for Workplace Flexibility 2010 at Georgetown Law, where much of her work focused on developing policy solutions to work-family conflict and its consequences for low-wage workers. She also practiced employment law at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Liz began her career as a Skadden Public Interest Law Fellow, working with low-wage workers and women receiving public benefits in New York City. She served as a law clerk to the Honorable Susan Y. Illston of the Northern District of California. Liz is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and Carleton College. 

My Take

Women in Low-Wage Jobs Deserve Equal Pay for Equal Work

Posted by Liz Watson, Senior Counsel and Director of Workplace Justice for Women | Posted on: April 08, 2014 at 10:22 am

It should be startling that even in the ten largest jobs that pay very low wages –$10.10 an hour or less – women still see a 10 cent gender wage gap on the dollar.* And this is despite the fact that women make up more than three-quarters of the workers in these jobs.

Across the income spectrum, the wage gap hurts women and families. But women in low-wage jobs can least afford it. They are already making do with less. They shouldn’t have to make do with pay discrimination too.

Mothers with children under 18 make up nearly one-quarter of these workers, although they make up just over 16 percent of workers overall.  In 2011, 40 percent of households with children under 18 had a mother as the primary breadwinner—and two-thirds of those households were led by single mothers with a median family income of just $23,000.  These hardworking breadwinner moms and their families deserve equal pay for equal work.

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NWLC Releases New Report! Reality Check: Seventeen Million Reasons Low-Wage Workers Need Strong Protections from Harassment

Did you know that a narrowly divided 5 to 4 Supreme Court recently watered down protections for victims of workplace harassment? More than 15 years ago, the Supreme Court recognized the potential for supervisors to abuse their power over their subordinates and employers’ responsibility to prevent that abuse. And the Court put in place strong protections from harassment by a supervisor. But the Court’s recent decision in Vance v. Ball State University [PDF] rolled back those protections by including within their reach only supervisors with the power to take actions like hiring and firing. The Vance decision said that supervisors who direct daily work are now mere coworkers in the eyes of the law, and must bring their cases under the much more difficult standard that applies to coworker harassment claims. Now workers will have a much harder time holding their employers accountable for harassment committed by lower-level supervisors who assign tasks, set schedules, and control other aspects of their day-to-day work. As Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent, the decision was “blind to the realities of the workplace.”

Reality Check: Seventeen Million Reasons Low-Wage Workers Need Strong Protections from Harassment, released today by NWLC, highlights three particularly important workplace realities:

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Fair Employment Protection Act Introduced!

Posted by Liz Watson, Senior Counsel and Director of Workplace Justice for Women | Posted on: March 14, 2014 at 10:29 am

On March 13, 2014 Senator Tammy Baldwin, Senator Tom Harkin, Congressman George Miller, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro introduced the Fair Employment Protection Act, (S.2133, H.R. 4227) with 12 original cosponsors in the Senate, and 24 original cosponsors in the House. The Fair Employment Protection Act is a commonsense bill to provide strong protections from workplace harassment.

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Maryland's Fair Employment Preservation Act: Restoring Strong Protections From Supervisor Harassment

Posted by Liz Watson, Senior Counsel and Director of Workplace Justice for Women | Posted on: February 26, 2014 at 05:03 pm

Lynette Harris, a maintenance technician, brought a sexual harassment suit against the City of Baltimore’s Department of Public Works in 2006. She alleged that male coworkers and supervisors referred to her and other women as “bitches” and used other derogatory terms on almost a daily basis, that she was repeatedly exposed to provocative photos of women in common areas at work, and that sexually explicit conversations were common in the workplace. The court held that Harris was entitled to a trial on her claims of supervisor harassment because several of her harassers were able to exert control over her routine work assignments, even though it was unclear whether her supervisors had the power to hire and fire her.

But, as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision last June in Vance v. Ball State University, courts across the country will be forced to restrict the definition of supervisor to only those with the power to hire and fire, and the like. This means that employers will no longer have a heightened legal obligation to protect against harassment by lower-level supervisors who direct daily work activities but are not authorized to take actions like hiring and firing – and that employees harassed by lower-level supervisors will have to bring their claims under the far tougher standard that applies to cases of coworker harassment.

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The Growing Inequality in Work and Family Conditions

Posted by Liz Watson, Senior Counsel and Director of Workplace Justice for Women | Posted on: January 29, 2014 at 01:49 pm

In last night’s State of the Union speech President Obama described how women are hit hard by growing income inequality in America. He's right. Women make up 60% of those workers in jobs paying under $10.10 an hour – jobs like home health aide, child care worker, and cashier. Sixty percent of the job gains by women in the recovery were in the 10 largest low-wage jobs, as compared to 20% for men. And in jobs with the largest projected job growth over the next decade, almost half are low-wage and nearly two-thirds are female-dominated.

But it's not just the wages in these jobs that are unequal. It's also the working conditions and especially the work and family conditions – including abusive scheduling practices, lack of paid leave and paid sick days and the overall mistreatment of workers who are pregnant or have caregiving needs.

Pregnant workers who have requested minor job accommodations during pregnancy have been forced off the job instead. A pregnant food service worker had so little control over her own destiny at work that she was required to ask for breaks to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water – even though her coworkers weren’t – and when she did ask, she was yelled at and sometimes her requests were denied. She was later fired after she asked for time off to attend a prenatal appointment.

Abusive scheduling practices are also common among workers in low-wage jobs. Workers who get their schedules with only one or two days' notice struggle to cobble together child care, juggle a second job, or make it to the class they're trying to attend so that they can move up into a higher-paying job. Some workers are never assigned any hours on the schedule at all. These workers have to go online after everyone else's schedule has been assigned and try to bid for whatever hours might be left. It's a virtual breadline for hours.

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