Tag Archive: Sex discrimination

The European Union’s Fight for LGBT Rights in Partner Countries

On October 2, 2013, Nick Westcott, the European Union’s most senior official in charge with relations in Africa, proclaimed the European Union should stop lecturing Africa about gay rights.  Westcott believes the European Union needs to be understanding of Africa’s cultural differences.  When asked to elaborate on cultural issues at a debate in Brussels about European Union foreign policy, Westcott stated “We can lecture about lesbian, gays and bisexuals until the cows come home. And it will have a wholly counterproductive effect on our usefulness in Africa. We need to focus on fundamental values.”

Protecting the rights of the LGBT community is a fundamental value of the European Union.  Westcott’s stance on how to handle gay rights in Africa is contrary to the European Union’s overall foreign policy on the rights of gays and lesbians in partner countries.  Article 21 of the the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.The principle of equal treatment is a fundamental value for the European Union, which is going to great lengths to combat homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In July 2012, the European Parliament released a resolution to help combat violence against lesbian women and the rights of the LGBT community in Africa.  In July 2013, the European Parliament submitted another resolution condemning a law passed by Nigeria that criminalizes not only same-sex marriage, but those who fail to denounce them. Even more than that, the law made it illegal to show a public display of affection to someone of the same sex.

The European Union’s fight for LGBT rights also extends to other parts of the world.  The European Union recently condemned Serbia’s ban  of a gay pride parade for the third consecutive year.  They have also condemned the Ukraine for its new laws banning propaganda of homosexuality, and threatened the Ukraine’s ties to the European Union because of it.  It appears Westcott’s opinion on how to handle LGBT rights in Africa is not the majority view of the European Union.

Fallon Fox: Transgender MMA Fighter Goes Public

MMA stands for mixed martial arts, which is a blend of fighting styles and skills. Recently Fallon Fox went public as the first transgender fighter in the MMA.

Fox was born a man, became a woman through hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery and then began her training in mixed martial arts. After winning her first two fights, Fox revealed her story to Sports Illustrated on the heels of an investigation into her surgery. In regards to her statements acknowledging that she was born a man, Fallon stated, “It’s just some people, some of society doesn’t get it yet. And this is what we are trying to do now is to inform people and let them know about transgender athletes.” Additionally when asked if there was an advantage for a woman born a man when fighting another woman, Fox stated, “There are no unfair competitive advantages.”

While the MMA allows participation of transgender fighters after completion of two years of hormone therapy, Fox knows that some fans and other fighters will attempt to dismiss her success because she was born in a male body. She argues that she has erased any advantage she had from being born in a male body by participating in ten years of hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.

In addition to the MMA, other professional sports organizations do not discriminate against transgender athletes. Through her gender change, Fox would currently be allowed to participate in the Olympic games as a woman. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy requires that transgender athletes undergo hormone therapy long enough to remove gender-related advantages. Other professional sports organizations that Fox would currently be allowed to compete in include the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

Fox plans on continuing to fight and since MMA is a sport that does not discriminate against transgender athletes, there will likely continue to be critics who believe she has an unfair competitive advantage even after the treatments she has undergone.

Colorado School District Bathroom Ban for Transgender Student

Coy Mathis is a 6-year-old first grader who identifies herself as a girl but was born with a boy’s body. Recently the Fountain-Fort Carson School District informed Coy’s parents that Coy would no longer be allowed to use the girls’ restroom at school.

Coy Mathis is a triplet who has lived as if she were a girl since she was 18 months of age. By age 4, Coy was telling her mother that she felt as if something were wrong with her body. Coy is diagnosed with gender identity disorder and her doctors recommend that she live as a girl. Since kindergarten Coy has presented as a female and has been using the restrooms designated as girls’ restrooms.

After the decision by the school district not allowing Coy to use the girl’s restroom, Coy’s parents with the assistance of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), filed a discrimination complaint in Colorado on Coy’s behalf. Attorney Michael Silverman of the TLDEF stated that, “For many transgender people, discrimination is a daily part of life,” and the complaint is “a test of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act.”

In making its decision not allowing Coy to use the girls’ restroom at school, the district “took into account not only Coy but the other students in the building, their parents and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older.”

The Fountain-Fort Carson School District is concerned about the possible uncomfortable feelings some students may have if Coy continues to use the girls’ bathroom as her male genitals develop. This concern raises the argument by the TLDEF that by allowing Coy to use the girls’ restroom, the school can send a message to the world and teach fair play, tolerance, and equal rights.

Gender Jousting in the EU Institutions

Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is legally binding on all Member States under Article 6 of the TEU states that “[A]ny discrimination on the basis of sex…shall be prohibited.”  Recently, European Union institutions have had an opportunity to demonstrate their thoughts regarding the limits of Article 21 through the discussion of legislation proposed by the European Commission that would require gender quotas for all boards of publicly held companies in the European Union.  Viviane Reding, European Commission Vice President and Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights initially proposed legislation that would require 40% of all publicly listed boards to be made up of women by 2020.

This goal of Reding’s proposal is to address the implied problem with regard to gender diversity in decision-making positions in the EU.  Currently in the EU, women make up only 12% of the boards of publicly traded companies even though 60% of university graduates are women. The implication that arises from these statistics is that gender discrimination is taking place in companies that promote significantly more men to top positions than women, in spite of the large body of women who are qualified.  Such gender discrimination is prohibited under Article 6 of the TEU, and under Reding’s rationale gender quotas would serve to level the playing field for women to gain access to decision- making positions.

While one may be tempted to think that support for this legislation would be divided down gender lines, there has not necessarily been such gender stratification regarding support for this bill.  For instance, Jose Manuel Barrosso, the head of the European Commission, made the decision to postpone a vote on the legislation that, if he had not postponed the vote until November, would have effectively doomed the passage of the bill.  Reding stated that she had support of the main finance commissioners themselves, including Barrosso, Joaquin Almunia, Laszlo Andor, Michel Barnier, Andris Piebalgs, Olli Rehn and Antonio Tajani, who all backed “an ambitious directive.”

On the opposing side, a number of female commissioners opposed the bill. Additionally, Luxembourg MEP Astrid Lulling explained that she was opposed because she thought candidates should be judged based on competency, not gender. She said that many countries, particularly in the Nordic region, had had problems with the quota system.  She cited instances of abuse, circumvention of national gender quota laws, and the fact that in decades past, many women did not study subjects such as economics, business administration or mathematics, which explains why there are fewer women in high-level business positions today.

An equally noteworthy debate was present in the European Parliament’s vote on the European Central Bank’s board nominee, Yves Mensch.  The European Parliament voted against Mensch’s nomination 325 to 300, on the grounds that that a woman should hold a post on what is currently an all-male board.  The European Parliament does not have the power to block Mensch from being appointed, but his rejection by the only EU institution that is elected by popular vote sends a strong message of disapproval to the European Council, the body that is ultimately in charge of filling the post.  Both the European Central Bank nomination rejection and the Commission’s gender quota bill indicate that there is a clear concern in European institutions for women to be part of decision-making bodies in Europe.  The question remains, however, as to how to best achieve this goal.

Wal-mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes


The United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Wal-mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes on March 29, 2011.  With 500,000 plaintiffs (reduced from 1.5 million by the 9th Circuit), this case is the largest employment discrimination action under Title VII in U.S. history.   The plaintiffs allege sex discrimination at  3400 Wal-mart stores across the country, specifically claiming  both hourly and salaried wage discrepancies between men and women and the systemic denial of promotions based on gender.   This case has been litigated for 1o years, but the Supreme Court will not decide the merits of the case.  The questions presented to the Court are purely procedural.  The first issue is whether claims for monetary relief can be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2).  The parties were also instructed by the Court to address whether the class certification ordered under Rule 23(b)(2) was consistent with Rule 23(b)(a).

Wal-mart argues, and critics agree, that there is too much variety among the individual members in the action such that they do not constitute a common class by a preponderance of the evidence.  For instance, promotion decisions were made by individual store managers at 3400 different stores and pay rates (and the discrepancies amongst them) vary across the 170 employee positions that the plaintiffs represent.

The National Organization of Women has condemned Wal-mart’s employment practices for years.  Recently, N.O.W. President, Terry O’Neill stated, “First we have banks that are ‘too big to fail’–now Wal-mart’s lawyers are claiming that the company is too big to sue!…Well, guess what?  When you’re the biggest employer in the nation and the richest company in the world, and you get that way by paying unfair wages, you should expect to find yourself on the wrong end of a massive lawsuit one day.”  So far, several fortune 500 companies have filed briefs in support of Wal-mart.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision this summer.

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