It has been a dizzying few weeks for women in the workplace.
Forty years after the Civil Rights Act and just days after news of high-profile sex-discrimination cases involving Wal-Mart and Morgan Stanley, a new report by the National Partnership for Women & Families has found that women of all races are still being discriminated against in the workplace.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. And although women have made significant progress since the act was passed, they still face discrimination, and often in much more complex ways, the report concluded.
The partnership, founded in 1971 as the Women's Legal Defense Fund, worked with 10 years' worth of discrimination claims provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and broke down the charges by race, age and ethnicity. The study, "Women at Work: Looking Behind the Numbers 40 Years After the Civil Rights Act of 1964," concluded that "women of color as well as older and immigrant women are especially likely to experience certain types of discrimination."
Data showed that claims of sexual harassment and sex discrimination continue to rise, but the number of claims filed by white women have decreased, while those filed by black and Hispanic women have increased.
"We wanted to look behind the numbers, because we thought there was a story there about what's happening in workplace," said Jocelyn Frye, director of workplace fairness programs at the partnership and primary author of the study. "We get frustrated when people talk generically about women or discrimination. We know there's a more nuanced story."
"We agree wholeheartedly that sex discrimination against women is still a major problem in the workplace," said David Grinberg, EEOC spokesman. The EEOC did a "Women of Color" study about six months ago with similar findings. "Women of color face a double dose of discrimination. It is a lingering problem we're addressing," Grinberg said.
The data confirm, Frye said, that people are being discriminated against in all of the categories listed in Title VII, and more so if they are women. The numbers illustrate "the combination of gender, race, and ethnicity can play a role in how different women are treated -- or mistreated -- at work," she wrote. The data also show that even a decrease in a particular type of claim can hide another piece of the story. For example: The overall number of age-discrimination claims has gone down during the past decade. But when the partnership broke those claims down by race and other characteristics of the complainant, it found that age-discrimination claims filed by women had increased.
"One of the big conclusions we drew from all that is we need to look . . . at numbers in more sophisticated ways than they've been doing, so we can see how it's happening and we can enforce" anti-discrimination laws, Frye said.
Grinberg said the statistics the EEOC gave the partnership are in fact used by the EEOC in its enforcement.
The data showed that during the past decade, the number of sex-discrimination charges filed with the EEOC increased by 10.5 percent. White women file more claims than women of color do, but white women's claims, while going up and down from year to year, declined 11.5 percent from 1992 to 2003.
Meanwhile, black women filed 3,898 sex discrimination charges in 1992, and 4,686 in 2003, a 20 percent increase. Hispanic women filed 1,052 charges in 1992 and 1,763 charges in 2003, a 68 percent increase.
"A significant portion of the increase in sex-discrimination claims over the last decade can be traced to the growing number of women of color filing complaints," the report says.
The report found that sexual harassment claims have increased 22 percent during the past decade. And it was not only women who filed: Men filed 14.7 percent of sexual harassment charges in 2003, up from 9 percent a decade ago.
Meanwhile, complaints filed by women who face discrimination because they are or may become pregnant have increased by 39 percent during the decade, even as the nation has seen a 9 percent drop in its birth rate, according to the report.
The increase can be at least partially attributed to the fact that there are more women in the workforce today, but that instances of discrimination still occur is disappointing and frustrating, Frye said. Although the partnership timed the report to be released near the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, it was by accident that it also was released as the Wal-Mart and Morgan Stanley sex-discrimination cases became more public. Those cases, Frye said, although not surprising, are still "a little shocking."
"It sort of gives you great pause, and you think, 'How can this still be happening?' But on other hand, if you look closely at the data, this is not a new story," she said. "Discrimination is still out there."
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