TRANSCRIPT: Women in the Workplace: Know Your Rights! - Outreach Session
In October 1998, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman and former Mexican Secretary of Labor José Antonio González Fernández signed a Ministerial Agreement on U.S. submission 9701 concerning pregnancy discrimination in the maquiladora sector. As part of this agreement, the United States and Mexico hosted outreach sessions in their respective countries to educate women about their rights in the workplace.
The U.S. outreach session entitled, Women the Workplace: Know Your Rights, was hosted by the Department of Labor's National Administrative Office and held in McAllen, Texas on August 17, 1999. The Mexican National Administrative Office hosted a similar event in Reynosa, Tamaulipas on August 18, 1999.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the speakers who participated in this event. I would also like to acknowledge the Women's Bureau, the South Texas Community College, and my staff for assisting with the coordination of this outreach session.
Irasema Garza, NAO Secretary
South Texas Community College, Center for Advanced and Applied Technology
Tuesday, August 17, 1999
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
6:00 - 6:15 pm: Welcome and Opening Remarks
Irasema Garza, Secretary U.S. National Administrative Office
6:15 - 6:45 pm: Federal Legal Protections for Women
Delores Crockett, Acting Director of Women's Bureau
6:45 - 6:55 pm: Questions and Answers
6:55 - 7:25 pm: Reporting Cases of Discrimination
Pedro Esquivel, District Director, EEOC
7:25 - 7:35 pm: Questions and Answers
7:35 - 7:50 pm: Refreshment Break
7:50 - 8:10 pm: Employer Responsibilities and Obligations
Gloria Almaraz, Compliance Officer, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, U.S. Dept. of Labor
8:10 - 8:20 pm: Questions and Answers
8:20 - 8:40 pm: Local Organizations and Legal Assistance
Diane Rath, Chair & Commissioner, Texas Workforce Commission
8:40 - 8:50 pm: Questions and Answers
8:50 - 9:00 pm: Closing Remarks
WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE- KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
August 17, 1999
SHANA L. LILES, CSR-RPR
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Good afternoon. It's my pleasure to be here in the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, an area where I grew up in, so it's wonderful to be -- to be home. I'd like to start off by saying that Secretary of Labor, Alexis Herman, sends greetings to this area. Unfortunately, the secretary was not able to join us. Her schedule didn't permit her to join us, but I would just state that Secretary Herman has devoted much of her life to promoting the rights of -- of women in the workplace, and, having said that, I just want to reiterate that she sends her greetings and best wishes for this event.
My name is Irasema Garza, and I am the secretary of the U.S. National Administrative Office of the U.S. Department of Labor. And before we begin, I think it's important and probably helpful to explain a little bit about how this outreach session came about. My office, the U.S. National Administrative Office, was created as part of the labor side agreement to the NAFTA. We have a process where citizens can -- of one country can file complaints with my office, for example, alleging that either Mexico or Canada have failed to enforce their own laws. Mexico and Canada can likewise entertain similar complaints about labor law violations in -- in the other two countries and, in fact, the same has been done in both of those countries, as against the United States.
In 1997, my office received a complaint alleging that gender discrimination -- alleging gender discrimination in a maquiladora sector in -- in Mexico. As a follow-up to this particular case, Secretary of Labor, Alexis Herman, and her counterparts agreed to host public outreach sessions to educate women in the workplace along the U.S. Texas/Mexico border. Tomorrow afternoon, my counterparts from Mexico will host a similar outreach session in -- in Reynosa for Mexican women workers.
Now, tonight's workshop is -- is an important opportunity to provide practical advice and guidance for women workers and employers alike, specifically the workshop will look at gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, maternity benefits and other issues that are pertinent to women in the workplace. The first part of the program is going to be dedicated to addressing protections afforded to women in -- in the United States, legal protections.
And we have an extensive list of government officials from the Employment -- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of -- and the Department of Labor, who are here to discuss the rights of women in the workplace. And after this session, EEOC officers will also be available to talk to interested people on a one-to-one basis about individual cases. I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity.
Now, the second part of the session is going to be dedicated to providing employers with information about their obligations and responsibilities related to gender discrimination in the workplace and its -- speakers from local communities will then focus on support services and resources that exist right here in the Rio Grande Valley for -- for women workers.
Most importantly, let me stress the importance of your role as the audience in this event. Tonight is really dedicated to you, whether you're a worker or employer or community leader. And tonight is a very unique opportunity for you to ask questions and learn more about the laws that protect women in the workplace. I welcome your participation in tonight's event.
We have an ambitious agenda to cover this evening, so without further ado, I'd like to turn over the event -- turn the event over to some of the very well-known leaders in the community that we have with us this evening.
Before I go on, I'd also like to acknowledge some -- some members of the audience, and -- in particular my counterpart from Mexico, Rafael De La Anda and his staff are here. Very happy to have Rafael here. Welcome.
The first person I would like to introduce is Rosie Cavazos. Ms. Cavazos is the current district director for Congressman Ruben Hinojosa. Ms. Cavazos's office has played an instrumental role in publicizing this event, and I'd like to thank her for being here tonight, as well as inviting her to make some brief remarks. Ms. Cavazos.
MS. ROSIE CAVAZOS: Thank you. I am really very happy to have the opportunity to be here with you today. Congressman Ruben Hinojosa wishes to extend to you a warm welcome and wishes you a very successful meeting tonight. You're going to have a great opportunity to hear from experts who are going to present information in areas of interest and importance to working women and to employers, as well.
As you know, today, we have more women in the workplace than we have ever had. They hold jobs from the most traditional to the most non-traditional. The challenges and opportunities available to women today are more than we ever thought possible, and as per the saying that was popular a few years ago, we've come a long way. But we still have a long way to go. The agencies and their representatives who are here tonight are going to help you make it further along that -- along that road. Women are a key force in our society and they, we, deserve a workplace that is safe, free of discrimination and open to opportunity.
I want to thank you again, Irasema in particular. I know she has worked extremely hard to bring this meeting together. And also a big thanks to all of the agencies who have worked so hard to get people here and to bring these resources to -- to this community. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for all of us to learn and most importantly to get information. They have a question and answer session, and I would urge you to take full advantage of that. You've got -- you've got them at your mercy tonight. They promise to answer any and all questions, so take advantage. Thank you.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you, Ms. Cavazos. And as all of you know, you have a great advocate in Congressman Hinojosa in Washington. I know he visits our office regularly on your behalf.
Next it's my pleasure to introduce to you Hidalgo County Judge, Jose Eloy Pulido. Judge Pulido was elected as the 27th Hidalgo County judge. Judge Pulido gained much of his experience by serving as a county clerk since 1994. And I'm very delighted that he was able to join us this evening, and also for all the help that he lended our office during preparation for this meeting. Judge Pulido.
JUDGE JOSE ELOY PULIDO: Thank you, Irasema. Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Eloy Pulido, and I am your county judge and I am very proud to be here, but I'm also a very firm believer that the woman's place is in the House -- and the Senate and the State Capital, so, therefore, to dispose some of the -- I got your attention.
Now that I have your attention, it is a great pleasure to be here, ladies and gentlemen. You know, as we think back when -- I was sitting and I was looking through the crowd and I was thinking about our upbringing. You know growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, growing up in the traditional Mexican -- Mexican-American family, we thought the -- the machismo of the male and the female being a subservient to the male because of lack of education and really because of a lack of knowledge.
But it was only through going through the university, as you start doing research and taking some psychology classes and learning that actually the stronger of the two sexes is the female. A female can stand more fear, even though I remember when we used to get scared and we were young, they used to call us (Spoke in Spanish.) In other words, don't be afraid, so -- but then -- and the more we learned, the -- not only the fear, but, you know, the -- the sex that can stand being without water, without food the longest is a female. So the more we think about it, the more the evolution and the changes in society. Because of our education, because of people -- the younger people no longer adhering to traditional beliefs of the families, things have started to change.
And what we haven't seen change are the workplace, you know, why a -- a woman, a black African woman or a black female would earn 67 cents to her counterpart, the male, why a white Anglo woman would earn 74 cents when they make up 4.7 million of the work force, why a Mexican American woman would earn between 52 and 54 cents compared to the male counterpart to me is unacceptable, and that's why it gives me great pleasure to be here.
We're talking about -- the social problem that we've got that is something that has plagued us tremendously, the single-parent household, when we have women trying to make ends meet on the meager salary that they get paid when they have to go through the discrimination in the workplace for whatever reason, because of gender, when -- because they have children or because they have other responsibilities that most men don't to me is unacceptable.
And as county judge I am proud to say I have Ms. Tozi Gutierrez -- Ms. Tozi Gutierrez who is here with me, who is one of my administrative assistants, and I say it with pride, that 80 percent of my administrative assistants are female. Now, I don't want anybody to tell me that I'm discriminating against men. It just so happens that they were the best qualified.
And it's a pleasure to be here again. One thing I do want to say is that I will have to excuse myself because of a prior commitment, however, I did not want to lose the opportunity to be able to address you all, so at this time, I will excuse myself. You-all have a good conference and may God bless each and every one of you. Thank you very much.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you, Judge Pulido. You don't know how happy I was to hear the rest of your speech. Take care. Thank you very much for being with us.
Now it's my distinct pleasure to introduce to you the mayor of McAllen, Mr. Leo Montalvo. Thanks to -- to the mayor's generous hospitality, tonight's event is being videotaped, and we're very happy because this is the type of video that we can then use throughout the State of Texas and perhaps other states to teach women about their legal rights in -- in the workplace.
I also want to congratulate the mayor on what a beautiful city McAllen has become. It is growing, there's a vibrancy here, there's an economy here, and it is just wonderful, Mayor. As you know, I -- I grew up in Elsa. I remember McAllen of 20 years ago, and I congratulate you very, very much for all the good work that you've done in McAllen.
MAYOR LEO MONTALVO: Thank you. You know, it seems like yesterday, but I -- I was an assistant high school principal in Elsa probably at the time you were there back in 1973. Muy buenas tardes. It's certainly a pleasure to be here this afternoon. Thank you for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to share with you a couple of thoughts.
By profession, currently I'm an attorney, but prior to becoming an attorney, I got a degree in mathematics, and mathematically speaking, it's very simple. Equal work, equal pay, regardless of gender. You know, I really was expecting more women here this evening, but I'm certainly delighted that those of you who could make it made it.
It is somewhat ironic that today, you know, August 17th, I was reading an article not too long ago, a few days back, about a female who undertook a tremendous challenge in San Antonio back in 1938. Her name was Ema Tinayuco -- Tinayuca (phonetic). She apparently organized some pecan shelling workers in San Antonio back in '38 because of poor working conditions and poor pay. Ema was buried July 27th of this year in San Antonio, and she is considered to be a pioneer in the civil rights movement for women and Mexican-American workers in Tejas. I can say that she was probably a quarter-century ahead of her time.
But let me -- let me commend Irasema Garza and her staff, as well as the -- her Mexican counterpart, (Spoke in Spanish) in Mexico for being part of this outreach conference. I hope you're successful.
And keep in mind that as we look into the next millennium, we can't wait any further than that to bring about equal pay for equal work and good working relationships for all workers, not just women or men, but everybody that's out there, whether you're partly disabled or not. If you are a worker, you're entitled to -- to decent work, decent pay and decent working conditions. And so I -- I take the opportunity, I hope, that one of these days you come back to Hidalgo County, Irasema, although we do need advocates in Washington, as well as other parts of our country. And so, again, let me commend you for -- for being here. Welcome to our fair city.
You know, a couple of years ago when I was elected, my predecessor thought that McAllen was going -- was going down the tube. And let me assure you that we're just beginning to do a number of projects of benefits to the entire community and we're certainly, on behalf of the city, very proud to support women issues and other issues that affect our community in general.
Thank you very much. I also do have an appointment, a commitment, a meeting with the mayor of Reynosa later today, and so I've got to run. Enjoy yourselves. Hope to see you soon. Gracias.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you, Mayor Montalvo, for taking time from your busy schedule to be with us here this evening.
And last but not least, I'd like to introduce Dr. Shirley Reed, the president of the South Texas Community College, this -- this wonderful campus. Thanks to Dr. Reed we are here tonight in this auditorium. And she's been very generous. And, Dr. Reed, I also want to thank you for all of the assistance that the campus has given to the U.S. Department of Labor, and particularly Juan De Garza and Rey Casanova have been absolutely helpful to my staff, and I'm very appreciative.
MS. SHIRLEY REED: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to have you on our campus. This facility is called our Center for Advanced and Applied Technology. It's one of five campuses at South Texas Community College. This is a most important issue. As a female community college president, I wrestle with the issues that you're going to be addressing this evening.
Both as an employee of this institution and as an employer, I firmly believe -- and that's why this institution was created -- is that education is the great and perhaps only equalizer. It is the only way in which all women are going to understand their rights, have the confidence and the assertiveness to exercise those rights and ultimately the assertiveness to demand those rights. It is also through education that the employers in this group are going to respect the rights of all workers, all employees, male and female, and live up to that responsibility.
On the college campus, we have approximately 50 degree and certificate programs, and I am most troubled by many of our technical programs that lead to very good-paying jobs. They are void of any female enrollment and I wonder why. I wonder if it's because women are concerned about discrimination, do not realize they have an opportunity to earn a very competitive wage or perhaps are not fully aware of their potential to be very competitive in the workplace.
I, too, have another appointment, and perhaps all three of us are going to the same place. I'm -- I'm not sure. I do support the issues that you will be addressing this evening, both as a female and particularly as an employer. I -- I do encourage the dialogue, and it's only through the dialogue and the presentment that we're going to resolve this most troublesome concern for all of us.
So have a great evening, and thank you for the opportunity to welcome you to our campus. Thank you very much.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you, Dr. Reed. Now we're going to get started with our -- our first session. I am very proud to present our first speaker. Delores Crockett is the current Acting Director of the Women's Bureau. She is a 19-year veteran with the bureau and a longtime advocate for working women. Ms. Crockett brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience to tonight's event. Please help me in welcoming Ms. Delores Crockett.
MS. CROCKETT: Buenas tardes, amigas. How did that come across?
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Very good.
MS. CROCKETT: And good evening, colleagues. Thank you very much for that introduction, Irasema, and I appreciate the opportunity to join you this evening. I welcome you on behalf of the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. And we thank you for coming this evening. We know that you work hard, that you have families and that you had to squeeze us into a very busy day. We appreciate it and we look forward to sharing resources with you and having you talk to us as well. We do intend to make this worth your while. We want to share several resources with you and provide information for you this evening.
And before I go any further, I'd like to introduce two very valuable resources, among others that will be introduced later this evening, and that's two top people from our Dallas regional office of the Women's Bureau. They are here to help you as well this evening, and they will be here to answer any questions that you have later on in the session. Let me introduce them to you. Beverly Lyle, our regional administrator, if you can raise your hand, and Delores (inaudible). They are headquartered in Dallas, and they have a 1-800 phone number that you can feel free to call should you need to ask any questions later on after tonight's session.
We gave you a test that I hope you had a chance to look at. It's called "This is Not a Test." Do you have it in front of you? Just kind of let me know. Raise your hands. It has a picture of a woman with a -- depending on what you think it looks like, a baby carriage or a grocery cart. I can't quite tell which one. But we hope you've had a chance to look at the questions because that's what we're going to go over this evening.
Now, to help you, we have some resource information in the brochures that we gave you outside. They are in Spanish and English, one on sexual harassment, the Family and Medical Leave Act and pregnancy discrimination. If you look through these, they will provide you the answers for the quiz. How's that? But we're going to also go over them with you very quickly, and before the night is over, you're going to all be experts on the federal laws to help women workers.
First things first, though. How many of you in the room are mothers? Me too. Great. How many of you worked when you were pregnant? Me too. Hard not to, huh? I bet that some of you probably were treated a little differently because you were pregnant when you were working and you probably didn't understand why. And that's one of the first things we're going to go over this evening, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It was passed in 1978. It prohibits employers from discriminating because of pregnancy, child birth or pregnancy-related medical conditions. It covers employers that have at least 15 workers. It doesn't take many people to be covered by this act.
Now, the purpose of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is not to provide special benefits because you are pregnant, just to make sure that you're not treated differently because you're pregnant. The law says that pregnant employees are to be treated the same as non-pregnant employees and that pregnancy should be treated the same as any other temporary disability. Many of you raised your hands. You are mothers, so you know that pregnancy is indeed a temporary disability. It may feel like it's permanent because it's nine months, but it is indeed temporary, and that is considered a short-term condition, just like breaking a leg or having hepatitis is in many cases a short-term disability. So the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that employers treat you, as a pregnant worker, the same as you would be treated if they covered you for having a broken leg.
Now, let's look at an example. I have a couple of stories that are going to help illustrate this -- this particular law. We're going to say that we had a woman named Maria, who is from Hidalgo. Is that the name? Okay. And she called the Women's Bureau, and she told us this story. About a year ago she applied for a job at a company called Jumping Joe's. You can imagine it is a trampoline company. And it has 23 workers. In her interview with the president -- and the president's name was Joe, Jr. -- he told Maria that the job would require some heavy lifting and some assembly line work. She said, "No problem."
Now, who thinks that Jumping Joe's is covered by this Pregnancy Discrimination Act? First of all, keep in mind that the company has 23 employees. So how many of you think that the company, Jumping Joe's, was indeed covered by this act? That's the first question on the quiz. Help me here. Okay. All right. So now we know that the answer to the first question is "True." It says, "Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers with at least 15 workers are prohibited from discriminating because of pregnancy, child birth or pregnancy-related medical conditions." Jumping Joe's had 23 workers, so we know that that company was covered.
Okay. Next part of this story. During the interview, Joe, Jr. asked Maria was she planning to have a family. That was one of the interview questions. She said, "Yes, I'm planning to have a family. In fact, I'm pregnant right now." Now, I want you to help me with this question. Was it legal for Joe, Jr. to ask that question? Absolutely not. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it is not legal to single out a woman and ask her about her family plans. By the way, it's not legal to ask a man, either. But you certainly can't be asked if you are pregnant, unless they prove that that pregnancy is a major part of the job.
So let's go on now to question 2, which says, "Is it legal for a perspective employer that's covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to ask a female, but not ask a male, if they are planning to start a family?" What's the answer to that one? Absolutely. Can't ask a woman or a man. It's not job-related.
In any case, then, let's go on with the story. Joe, Jr. did offer Maria the job. After a month or so, everything was fine, but her pregnancy began to show. He started getting a little nervous, so one day he called her in to the office and he said, "I'm going to take you off the line, Maria, because of your condition." She said to him, "Mr. Jr., Mr. Joe Jr., I'm feeling fine. My doctor says I'm fine." But Joe says, "I'm worried about liability and I'm going to move you. I'm going to move you to a job. Unfortunately, Maria, it has lower pay."
Now, who thinks that Joe, Jr., considering he was the boss, that he was within his rights? Who thinks he was right? He kept her from doing her current job. Was he right to move her? Absolutely right. He was not right to move her, so that question 3, "Is it illegal for an employer to tell you you cannot continue your regular tasks because of your pregnancy?" That's correct. It is not. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, you are entitled to continue in your regular job as long as you are able to perform the essential tasks of that job. If you become unable to do your job, you then have the right to ask for an alternative or a different job. Did you know that? You can ask to do a different kind of job. Now, though, if an appropriate job is not available, the employer is not obligated to provide a new job for you.
Now, let's continue with our story really quickly. When Maria reached her eighth month of pregnancy, he called her in again. She said, "What now?" He said, "It's time for you to go on maternity leave." She said, "I'm not ready to stop working, I can't afford to stop working, Mr. Jr." He said, "I think you're going to have to go," so she stayed home until her daughter was a month old, and then she called back and said, "I'm ready to come back to work, my daughter is a month old, but I need to work and I need to come right back." He told her to take three more weeks of unpaid leave. Is that legal? You are a very informed audience. That is not legal.
Question 4 says, "It is legal for an employer covered by the law to tell you when to take leave from work before the birth of your child and when to return after the birth of your child." And that, of course, as you know, is false. Under this Act, you are entitled to determine when you need to stop work and when you would like to return to work after the delivery. It's up to you and your doctor. Of course, you must make these decisions within the context of the time frame of the -- that the employer has entitled you to take, as well as any leaves that you may have available under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is described in this book here.
Now, what if -- instead of forcing Maria to take unpaid leave, what if Joe, Jr. had fired her? Would that have been legal? Could he have fired her instead of telling her to take leave? We know he does sometimes, though, don't we? Absolutely.
Question 5, "It is legal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to fire or lay off a worker because she is pregnant." Is that answer right? Absolutely. That's right. It is not legal, so that's false. Now, don't worry about -- you can write these answers down, but we're going to give you an answer key when you leave so you can make sure that you do know the laws and the answers to these questions, so write them down as we go along, but don't worry about it if you miss one.
Okay. Now, you can imagine, after all this has happened to Maria, she's starting to get pretty grumpy by now, right? Things have gotten worse. When she is able to come back to work, she found out that while her company did have a disability insurance program, it covered only a quarter of her pregnancy leave, and then she found out a friend of hers had a broken leg and that disability insurance covered all of his time out. That was -- and that's exactly what made her blow her top. She said, "Enough is enough."
So was it permissible under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act for an employer to discriminate from one worker to the other based on what the disability was? Keep in mind, as we mentioned earlier, pregnancy should be treated as any other temporary disability, so if the employer has a plan that covers you for short term illnesses, if you have a broken leg or pneumonia or whatever and that employer covers it in the plan for disability, then it also is covered for pregnancy.
Question 6, "Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers who have at least 15 workers are allowed to" -- and we have four options here -- "to treat pregnancy differently than any other type of disability, to fire a worker because she's pregnant, to take away credit for previous years of accrued retirement benefits or seniority because of maternity leave." Are any of these allowable? No. "D" is the answer for that one, "None of the above." But we do know that employers do do all of those things don't we? And now we know that they are against the law. And for those of you employers in the audience, you know too now that that's against the law.
Maria, then, as you can imagine, was hopping mad. So you know what she did? She called the Women's Bureau. And you know what we did? We told her that that was a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and we referred her to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, because they handle cases like that.
You're going to hear from Pedro Esquivel this evening. He's the District Director of the EEOC, that's the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And he's brought with him a number of people who will be able to help you understand what to do if your rights under this law have been violated.
Now, questions 7 through 9 I don't have a cute little story for. We're just going to run through them really quickly. "Which of the following would be considered pregnancy discrimination?" Who knows the answer to number 7? "A," that's right. The answer to 7 is "A."
Number 8, "If you were discriminated against because you are pregnant, it could be helpful to?" What? Do -- any of these or all of them or none of them? What's the answer to 8? Did someone say"B"? Someone said "B." That's good. "Talk to your union representative." That's one good thing you can do. Someone I heard said "C." It says, "Keep doing your good job and keep a record of your work." That's also what you should do. The other thing says, "Keep -- get your family involved," get some emotional support, and that's important, as well. So the answer is "D," "All of the above."
And the last one under pregnancy discrimination is, "Pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment only happen to who?" Only happens to me? Well, who do you see up here? A black woman. It only happens to black women? I don't think so. It only happens to me again, I'm a single woman. No. It only happens -- if you're married, it doesn't happen to you. I don't think so. It only happens to me again, I'm poor. I know you don't think I am, but I'm really poor. It happens to poor women, it happens to single women, it happens to married women, it happens to women of color, it happens to everybody. Discrimination is an equal opportunity bad thing, okay?
Now, let's move really quickly along to the Family Medical Leave Act. And, Irasema, keep me on time here, because I know we are running behind. This act is very important. It's described in the yellow brochure. This one is the first one that President Clinton passed when he was the president in 1993. And it provides that an employer can allow you -- or you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from your job if you are in a company that has at least 50 employees. And the reasons you can use to take this leave, you can have a child, you can adopt a child, you can take one in as a foster child, you can be seriously ill and you need some time off for yourself or you need to take care of an immediate family member who has a serious illness. This could be a husband or a child. We have people in our family sometimes that get -- that get cancer. You can take off 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of them, or if you yourself had cancer or whatever, you could take off time under this law.
But there are certain requirements, and they're listed in the book as well. You have to be in a company that has 50 employees, you have to have worked for that company at least 12 months, you have to have at least had 1,250 hours. If you were, say, a temporary or part-time worker, you had to have worked at least 1,250 hours in those last 12 months, and if there are at least 50 employees in the company within a 75-mile radius. Now, the agency that handles complaints on this law are -- is in the Department of Labor. It's wage and hour. And we can give you their 1-800 number. It's really easy. Let me give it to you now. It's 1-800-959-FMLA. See, that's how easy that is.
Now, let me run really quickly into another story to illustrate this. And I hope I'm not talking too fast for the -- okay. I've got some good guys back there. They're really good. Okay.
This story is about Fran. She started out as a part-time receptionist for the Corny Corn Dog Company. That's a fast food company in El Paso, and they have 55 full-time workers and 12 part-time workers. She has been working for her supervisor for 18 months, and her supervisor told her she was going to be promoted very shortly to a secretarial position, and that, of course, you know pays higher wages and better benefits. The Corny -- Corny Corn Dog Company is a very good company. It sounds corny, but it's a good company, okay? It has insurance for the employees, it has paid leave. It's been assured that -- it's told all the employees about the Family Medical Leave Act, and so everybody knows their rights.
Looking at question 10 on your quiz, how many of you think that Fran was covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act in the company, the Corny Corn Dog Company? Was she covered? And the reason why is because -- you remember we talked about how many employees are in the company. And if there are at least 50 employers -- employees in that company, then they're covered.
Question 11, How long do you have to be employed by an employer to be covered by the Family Medical Leave Act? What's the answer to that one? "C," "12 months." That's right. You have to be employed 12 months. Now, certainly, we know that Fran was covered, because, as I mentioned earlier, she had been there for 18 months. As I mentioned earlier, you could be a -- a part-time worker and still be covered by this act, but you have to have worked at least 1,250 hours. Now, I had to take my calculator out. I don't know how many hours 1,250 hours is. So let me give you an example. If you work an eight-hour day, you would have to work 156 eight-hour days, or double that if you work a four-hour day, or if you work five days a week, you have to work 31 weeks, so that helps you from -- trying to figure this out while I'm going on with my great story here.
Fran got her promotion. She got a new job as a secretary. She had been on this new job about a week. Then she gets a call from the Texas Adoption Agency and -- telling -- telling her that they found a newborn baby. And she had been trying to get a baby for so long, and so, of course, she was very excited, so she goes in and tells her employer that she was approved to adopt this baby and she's going to have to take off four weeks of work.
Now, keep in mind she just started this new job as a secretary about a week, but she had been with the company 18 months. Is she covered by this law? Question 12? Yes, she is. She is covered by the law because she's been in the job for 18 months. Keep in mind, then, that she can take time off because she didn't have a child on her own, but she is adopting one, and it will certainly feel like her child until after college and even after that. We all know that they never leave your pocketbook, do they?
Now, Fran had never taken any leave, so she didn't think it was going to be a problem, but her boss told her that she could only take two weeks -- two weeks of paid leave. If she needed more time than that, they were going to have to replace her. Do you think that she was required to return to work after two weeks? Well, it depends. If you need time off to adopt a child or care for a family member, you are eligible for up to how many weeks without pay under the Family Medical Leave Act? 12. So in this case, what this means is that Fran had to take the two weeks paid leave, but she was eligible to take the other time off as well. So she did not have to come back after two weeks, even though that was the paid leave. She still had the 12 weeks as given her under the law, so she goes back to her desk. She says, "This doesn't sound right. My boss is telling me I've got to come back after two weeks." She pulls this brochure out of her desk, because we had made sure she had it, right? And she read her rights. And then she went back to the employer -- and sometimes you have to do that -- because employers don't know all the laws. And she made them remember that she did have up to 12 weeks. And the employer said, "You're going to have to take the two weeks paid leave." She said, "No, I don't want to do that because we're going on a vacation. We've already gotten some tickets and we can't get the money back."
Okay. Looking at question 14, An employer -- "An employee is entitled to take his or her full allotment of family leave in addition to any employer provided leave." What's the answer to that question? It's true. The law gives employers the right to require an employee to use any accrued pay leave towards the 12 weeks of unpaid. So in other words, if you've got all this wonderful time you want to take a vacation and then you want to take the unpaid leave, the employer can say to you, "Take all the time you have, you're going to have to use all your sick time, all your vacation time," and even if you had other plans for it, they are within their rights to make you take that paid time off as well.
While she was on family leave, guess what happened? She got bronchitis. Her husband got it too. She called in and said she couldn't come to work at the end of four weeks. She wanted two more weeks of leave. Her boss said, "I'm sorry about your illness, but you've got to be back by the end of the week, because we have a serious need for your presence." Can her boss require her to return to work because of a serious business need, question 15? No. She's entitled to take any amount of family leave left to her in order to care for herself or her husband, since they both have a serious health condition. Now, here you get into a little gray area because serious health condition has a lot of definitions. So don't make an assumption that because you have a very bad cough, that's a serious health condition, okay?
So, of course, the boss said, "I need a doctor's certificate. You say you are seriously ill. I need a doctor's certificate." Is she required to have a doctor's certificate, question 16? Yes. The employer can ask for a doctor's certification to verify your illness. When she and her husband are well, she comes back to work. She finds out when she gets back to work that she's been transferred. Remember she had just been in the secretary's job a week. She's been transferred to another job. It's a smaller job, less visible office. She feels that she's being treated unfairly, but her boss says to her, "I'm sorry, I need to have someone here." She didn't lose any money. She just lost status. So looking at question 17, "While you're out on medical leave, your boss can switch you to a different job with less pay and less benefits as long as the working conditions are still the same." What's the answer to that one? Right. If the working conditions, the salary and nothing else is compromised, you can be moved, but you have to make sure that nothing has been compromised, your health benefits are retained, your pay is retained, but they do have the right to move you to a job with equivalent position and pay and status.
So this worked out pretty well. She's still with the company and living happily thereafter with her new baby, and she and her husband are well.
The last scenario is on sexual harassment, and this one is in the form of sex discrimination covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It's in this brochure. I like to say the pink one. There are two forms of sexual harassment. Most of us think we know all about it because we've seen a lot about it on TV, but, trust me, a lot of people don't understand the little nuances of it. There are two forms.
One of it is what we call quid pro quo, but since I don't speak Latin, I'm going to say tit for tat, and the other one is, if you have -- have to work in what is called a hostile work environment. So in the first category, which we call, if I may, tit for tat, this is when an employee -- an employee, a male or female is required to submit to unwelcome sexual conduct as a term for -- for working, or if the employee has to submit to unwelcome conduct. This can affect the decision about the employee's working situation.
The second form of sexual harassment is that one about the hostile work environment, and that is whenever unwelcome verbal or physical sexual conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with your work performance or creating what we call an intimidating working environment. Now, the key word in sexual harassment is the word "unwelcome." We're not talking about flirtations or consensual, whatever you may do after work or whatever. The key word, as I mention, is "unwelcome."
The hostile environment can take the form of dirty jokes or dirty stories or pornographic pictures and other things like that. The victims are not always female. The victims can be males. The sexual harasser doesn't always have to be your boss. The sexual harassment can be done by a coworker or even a person that's not an employee of the company that comes around you a lot. What we'd like for you to remember is that everybody is entitled to work in an environment that is free of any offensive sexual conduct. Again, if you find this to be happening or if you know of someone that this is happening to, you can call the Women's Bureau or you can call the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission again, and they will tell you what to do in the next session because they handle cases like this.
I'm going to run really quickly and kind of skip most of this next story, but it's about an employee who worked in a company called Hilarious Harry. You can imagine that's a comedy club. This particular woman was working in this comedy club, and all the comedians felt that they should tell her the dirty jokes. She did not particularly appreciate the dirty jokes, but she didn't know what to do about it. So when we look quickly at question 18, "Sexual harassment can take many forms, including persistent slurs and dirty jokes." Is that true or false? It's true. It may not seem like it, but EEOC has guidelines defining sexual harassment, and they include any verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates an offensive work environment, and that's very true.
None of these slurs, though, were made by the head of the company, but that doesn't mean anything. It doesn't have to be the head of the company. If he knew about it, he is supposed to do some about it. He doesn't have to be the harasser in all -- in all cases, so looking at questions 19, 20, I think you're going to probably pick up very quickly that sexual harassment did happen because she was exposed to these jokes that were unwelcome in her case.
The other thing that happened to her, though, is then this man comes in and he actually kisses her. She doesn't like that at all. Keep in mind, it was not consensual. We know that that is sexual harassment, right? But she didn't have any witnesses. So we look quickly at question 21 that says, "There's no point in filing a sexual harassment case if there's no witnesses." What's the answer to that? And that's really tricky because you say, "Nobody saw it. It's his word against mine, therefore it's not sexual harassment." It is sexual harassment, witnesses or no. Again, EEOC may find -- may make a finding that harassment based totally -- can be based totally on the credibility of the victims that were charged -- the victim's charge, rather, and, again, I'm sure they will talk to you about this.
The main point of this is that the boss was liable because he knew about it, and it's up to the boss to create an environment that is not offensive and does not have sex as a part of your ability to get the job, keep the job, get a raise, get a promotion. It should have nothing to do with your working environment at all.
So in conclusion, let me encourage you to use your resources. The Women's Bureau, the EEOC, the OFCC and all these other alphabets that you will hear about later today. We are here to answer questions, and we have a 1-800 number that you can call. Take the answer quiz, make sure you feel comfortable. Read these and any other resources we have available for you. We are here to help you, and we very much appreciate the opportunity. Thank you very much.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Wait. I had a microphone here. Thank you, Delores, for that very insightful presentation. There's going to be an opportunity to ask Delores questions later on this evening. Before we proceed with our program, though, I'd like to acknowledge La Senora Guadalupe Gomez. (Spoke in Spanish.) I think I said that in Spanish. She is the director of the National Commission on Women in Mexico.
Okay. Now that we've gone through this session about what constitutes discrimination and what are the legal protections that are afforded to women in the workplace, we come to the next part of our work program, and that is recording those cases.
And we have with us and are very pleased to introduce to you Mr. Pedro Esquivel. And he is the district director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the district office in San Antonio. Mr. Esquivel has been with the commission since 1965. I am delighted that he's able to be here with us tonight with members from his staff to explain how women can file a charge of discrimination with both local and federal authorities. Mr. Esquivel.
MR. PEDRO ESQUIVEL: Thank you, Ms. Garza, distinguished hosts, distinguished guests. It is indeed a pleasure to be here representing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Commission is most grateful to have been invited to participate on this board in this very important conference.
I would like to introduce the staff members who are going to be here me with this evening and will assist you in filing charges or answering questions, who are going to be part of this program. First, Ms. Cynthia Stein, who is the systemic and board supervisor, Ms. Esther Herrera, who is an enforcement manager, Ms. Yolanda Torres, who is manager analyst, Ms. Leticia Juarez, who is an investigator. And I guess I can say and refer to that little prayer, you know, (Spoke in Spanish.)
These staff members will be available, as I say, and will provide as part of the program -- I'm only going to take ten minutes of my time so that they will have some time to explain what has been discussed and what will be discussed in the program. First I'd like to say, the Commission is an independent government agency. It was created by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and it is functioned by five commissioners. The five commissioners are appointed by the president. They are named for a five-year term, and that does require senate confirmation. There is also a general counsel, who is appointed by the president, and that requires senate confirmation. And these are all serving for five-year terms. One of the commissioners is designated as chairman. Another one is named as a vice chairman. And these do not require senate confirmation, but the fact that they are named by the president as commissioners, that does require a senate confirmation. The naming of each of the commissioners as chairman or chairperson and vice chairperson does not require any other senate ratification.
The Commission has 24 district offices throughout the country and 26 subdistrict offices. And these are the offices that enforce the statutes and the policies enacted by the Commission. The office of San Antonio serves all of South Texas. There are three other district -- I mean, two other district offices in Texas, Dallas and Houston.
The Commission enforces six very, very important statutes that go towards the protection of rights of individuals. The first one is Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The next is Equal Pay of 1963, and that protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based discrimination. Then you have the Age Discrimination Employment Act, which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older. That, of course, doesn't apply to any of us, does it? And Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and that prohibits -- that prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector in state and local governments. The next one is Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government and the 1960 -- 1991 Civil Rights Act, which provides monetary damages in case of intentional employment discrimination.
Within these statutes are conditions which may lead to possible discriminatory practices. Some of these discriminations -- some of these are discriminations because of accent, harassment, sexual harassment, pregnancy, English-only rules, religious accommodations, the Immigration Reform and Control Act and reasonable accommodations.
And all of the information that I have just alluded to is provided in this blue folder that you have before you. You have them in Spanish and in English. You also have our 1-800 number, our office number, and we will be providing all of the other information that you have in the folder, if necessary, again, and if you find it necessary to give us a call.
At this time, I would like to introduce Ms. Cynthia Stein, who will provide more detailed information on one of the main topics. Ms. Stein, thank you.
MS. CYNTHIA STEIN: Thank you, Mr. Esquivel. It is really great to be here with you this evening. It is really a wonderful opportunity for us to come and to meet with you. Hopefully you'll be willing to speak with us during recesses or afterwards so we can provide any information that we might have and answer any questions you might have.
As Mr. Esquivel said, I am a supervisor of an enforcement team, and on my team I have eight investigators at this time and we do do systemic-type work, but we also do investigate charges that are filed by individuals who have individual problems. So we're well-prepared to meet with you this evening, explain the process to you, explain what it is that you might need to know, should you or shouldn't you.
Ms. Crockett has provided you with some great information with regard to the topics we're discussing this evening, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and general sex discrimination. The rights of an employee and the responsibility of an employer in the workplace are just tremendous. Every employee has the right to work in an environment free of discrimination. Applicants have the right to seek employment and compete on a level playing field, regardless of whether or not they are pregnant, whether or not they are women. Employers have the obligation to maintain processes and procedures which ensure that the rights of all applicants and employees are safeguarded.
All of the laws and all of the agencies represented here today can only do just so much. It's up to you to watch and to be alert and to see if your rights are being upheld, and you must decide whether or not to do something if you believe your rights have been violated. It's one thing to know; it is a very difficult thing to decide whether or not to act, and we realize that.
Maybe you could begin to make this very important decision by asking yourself a couple of questions. First take a really close look at what's going on in your environment. Take a close look at your situation. Pay attention to the signals that tell you something is right. Perhaps you could ask, was I treated differently because I'm pregnant? You probably know that better than anybody else. If so, how was I treated differently? Was it by virtue of not being hired or not being promoted or considered for training, not being transferred, not being given job assignments that would lead to a better career for you? You have to be alert, you have to pay attention, you have to know what your particular work environment is like. Then if someone else perhaps was given a better employment opportunity and you realized that both of you are equally qualified, you're looking for the reason that you perhaps were not given that employment opportunity. That's the way it will be.
That's the way the Commission will look at your situation. We're going to look at how you were treated and whether or not there was something different about the treatment and what was the cause of the treatment. An employer doesn't have to provide an employment opportunity to you because you're a woman or because you're pregnant, but they do have to treat you in an equitable fashion, and that means they have to look at all of your qualifications, all of the potential that you have and afford you the same opportunities.
When you come to EEOC, these are the kinds of questions that we will be asking you that will help us very much to know what really goes on in your environment, what the processes might be, what the procedures might be, but more importantly, what it is that really occurs. We'll have companies that have wonderful policies and procedures and they're not actually applied all of the time, so we want to know what really goes on. That's where we look to see if there's employment discrimination. You have the details and we need to know them.
Filing a charge of employment discrimination is a very, very serious decision, and it is a very personal one. Filing a charge of discrimination that addresses pregnancy is -- is a very hard thing for some folks to do. When an individual is in an environment where they think that sexual harassment has occurred, this also is a very serious matter. It's a very personal matter.
When you're looking at sexual harassment, we find that most of the victims that come to us have been experiencing it for quite some time. At first when the harassment begins, most of the victims kind of think, "Oh, gee, that really didn't happen, you know, I must be mistaken," until it happens again, and it will happen again, and then the victim will say, "Well, golly, this must be my fault. I must be doing something that says I can be treated this way." And so they will again just ignore it and turn away, because it is -- it's just -- it's a horrible decision to realize that you are being victimized because you've lost the control, and it will continue to happen, and then the fear or the anger or the frustration begins to set in and that may indeed begin to affect how you think about your job.
Some folks will just simply walk away. Most people who are affected by sexual harassment, rather than deal with it would rather just walk away from it because it's just a personal issue, and that's your right. You certainly can choose to walk away, but the laws are there to say you don't have to work this way, you don't have to be treated this way. We realize again this is a very difficult step for you-all to take. For anyone to come to a federal agency and file a charge of employment discrimination has a lot of repercussions that folks are afraid of, but sometimes you just need to kind of wonder, "Well, what difference is it going to make? Am I willing to put up with this? Am I willing to walk away from this or am I willing to do something about this?"
Getting ahold of us is really not a hard thing to do. Employers can call if they have questions or concerns. Employees can call, potential employees can call. We have an 800 number. If you don't remember the 800 number, you can call us collect and we'll take your name and number and call you back. If you want to write us a letter, we'll be happy to write you back. Our office is very responsible -- very responsive to contact from all of our constituency because that's how we get the information out. That's how we're able to help you.
The charge processing procedure might seem kind of complex and indeed very consequential, but you also need to know that the statutes that we're talking about have provisions that protect you from retaliation. That's another situation where you may have filed a charge or you may have even complained internally and not filed a charge about a situation that is related to pregnancy discrimination or sexual harassment and then something begins to happen to you and it's in retaliation for voicing your opposition or it's in retaliation for participating in someone else's complaint, if you provided a statement or if you filed a charge and it turned out that we weren't able to do much. The retaliation aspect of this statute still exists for you.
Again, it's a very big step. We're there to try to walk you through the process, to keep you informed of exactly what we're doing, how we're doing it. If you wish representation you're welcome to do that, beginning, middle or end. We're always open to try to resolve these questions. We're open to try to settle the cases. We do have the authority to litigate, but all along the way, we're trying to resolve the matter before that happens.
I think one of the simplest things for employers and employees to remember is that if you're not maximizing your resources, you're losing a great deal. You're losing a lot of valuable time, you're losing a lot of valuable knowledge, you're losing a lot of valuable skill when you allow these things to go on, intentionally or not. Most of this that occurs is because people do not know, and then the second thing, it happens because people are a little squeamish about doing it. I mean, to get the federal government involved is a big step.
So my counterparts are here, coworkers are here. We'll try to meet with you this evening, answer any questions that you might have, walk you through the particular processes that you might be interested in, get you information if you would like us to send you information. As Mr. Esquivel said, in our little folder, there is a question/answer series in the back to help you to define some of these situations, "Yeah, that's my situation" or "My situation is something not quite like that."
But I thank you very much for this brief time, and you're welcome to call. Ms. Esther Herrera is my supervisor, and she's going to give you some particulars on some of the processes. Thank you.
MS. ESTHER HERRERA: Buenas noches. Glad to be here in the valley. As Mr. Esquivel indicated, the San Antonio District Office has jurisdiction to investigate charges in the Valley. We cover all the area for South Texas, Laredo, all the way up to College Station and over the San Antonio area. We have the 1-800 number, which is -- all that information is in that blue folder that -- that we have provided for you. The 1-800 number is 1-800-669-4000.
What I want to cover briefly is the process that you go about in filing a charge. Under Title 7 and the Americans With Disabilities Act, as Ms. Crockett indicated, an employer has to have 15 or more employees in order for us to have jurisdiction to -- to investigate a company. Under the Age Discrimination Employment Act, an employer has to have 20 employees in order for us to have jurisdiction, again to investigate a company. Under the Equal Pay Act, the -- under the Equal Pay Act, charges are filed on the basis of sex, male versus female or vice versa, and an employer, most employers, are covered under the Equal Pay Act, so those are the three main areas that charges are filed.
If the allegation involves a wage issue, those charges are filed concurrently or under Equal Pay Act and under Title 7, so we have -- when we have a situation where the allegation or the problem exists involving wages, we take the charges under both statutes.
Any individual who believes that they have been discriminated against has the right to file a charge. We cannot deny an individual from filing a charge, so if you believe that either you were not hired because of your sex, female, you believe that you were subjected to sexual harassment, you believe that because of your pregnancy you were discriminated, either by not being hired or being denied wages, being denied a promotion. Any terms or conditions of employment are covered, so it's an allegation when you file a charge. And it's a very brief statement that we as investigators -- and we have investigators to talk to you if you're in the San Antonio District Office. But we can also take charges over the mail, by mail. Many charges are from this area, are sent to us in -- in a -- just a note or a -- or a statement that indicates that you might be having problems with your employer. Or we can also take charges by phone. We have the 1-800 number. As Ms. Stein indicated, you can call us and we'll call you back. You can call us collect.
So when you file a charge, it's an allegation. It's a very brief statement, and in the package it's a charge form. Basically, what it says -- and all we need to say is, "I believe that -- well, I was fired. I was terminated. I was denied employment, and I believe that it's because of my sex." "I've been subjected to sexual harassment, and I believe that it's because of my sex in violation of Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," or any of the other statutes that we enforce. So this is all we -- we take. It's a very brief statement of the harm. "I was terminated. I believe that because of my sex in violation under Title 7." This is a form that we take.
Some of the information that we require, very basic information, is your complete name and address, the name of your employer, if you -- if you have the name. Sometimes some individuals who come to us are not sure where the company is located. They don't know who the discriminating official is. Well, we can try to assist you in taking the charge. We need the complete name, again, and address of the employer, if possible. We also need to know, as Ms. Stein indicated, what happened to you, you know. What -- when did it happen if you have information. When did the sexual harassment occur? When did the supervisor approach you and tell you that if you went out -- if you didn't go out with him you wouldn't get the promotion, okay? Or when did -- okay? When were you terminated? Who terminated you? What date did it happen? Who was involved? Who was the manager who subjected you to sexual harassment? Or who was your coworker who told you the sexual jokes? Or where did you -- where did you see the pornographic material or the graffiti at the work force? This is the type of information that we try, during the interview process, in drafting a charge, in -- in the starting of the charge, because you, the charging party, the complainant, are the first part of the investigation. The investigation begins with you. Many times you do not have information. In other words, when you went to apply at a company, you might not know the name of the person who interviewed you, who perhaps asked you whether you were pregnant or -- or indicated to you that you could have the job if you -- if you met him at -- at a club for a drink, so you might not know the name of the individual or the discriminating official, but you might remember what that individual looked like. You might remember who was there at the employment office when you applied. So this is the type of information that we try to get from you during the intake process.
When you file a charge, when we accept a charge from you, we are required by law -- in ten days we've got to notify the company of a charge being filed, so we serve the company with the copy of your charge, and this is why we take a very brief statement. "I was terminated. I believe that it's because of my sex that I was terminated." This is what is served to the company. Then the investigation process begins. Many charges are investigated by telephone. Many charges are investigated my mail, but many charges we have to go to the site to investigate. Many -- many charges we have to review the facility, we have to check the plant, we have to find out where was the graffiti at the work force? You know, where did the sexual harassment occur? Did it occur in the office behind closed doors, did it occur over there on the line, if it's a manufacturing type operation? And as one of the questions on the quiz that indicated that many times in an incident of sexual harassment, there was no witnesses. Because we find in our investigations that that supervisor or that coworker didn't subject you to sexual harassment when there were witnesses happening, but there -- it happened behind closed doors.
And what we try to do in our investigations is we try to what we call corroborate evidence. In other words, when you were subjected to sexual harassment -- when an individual is subjected to perhaps sexual harassment behind closed doors, there was no witness, because many times, the majority of the times, that's where it happens, okay? But maybe perhaps when you -- when it happened to an individual, that individual was so upset that day, might have come out crying, might have been so upset, they might have related that information to a coworker, and that coworker might not have observed or witnessed the incident of sexual harassment but can corroborate the evidence of your allegation that on that day I -- "My coworker came out from the -- from my -- from the manager's office and told me what happened," so this is what we call corroborating evidence. And this is the type of information that we seek when we -- when we go out to the -- on-site to the facility. Because sexual harassment, ethnic racial harassment, also. You're not going to get the evidence from records, you're not going to get the records from -- you've got to talk to witnesses. You've got to go out and talk to witnesses. Many times when we do an investigation, we do not talk to witnesses that you provide at this job site, because many times we find in our investigations that witnesses are -- are reluctant to provide information. Why is that? They're afraid they might lose the job if they provide testimony. So many times most of our investigations in obtaining testimonial evidence, we try to -- to interview witnesses outside of the job site. Another way that we might go about it is maybe perhaps when we do an investigation, we might ask the company to give us a list of your coworkers, and we might select from among those of the interview individuals that you might have named as -- as witnesses who can provide evidence to us.
There are many ways that we go about in obtaining evidence. What we -- what we are as investigators is that we are fact finders. We try to obtain data, records, testimony, looking at facilities, in order to make a recommendation to our director, who -- our director, Mr. Esquivel, in the San Antonio office makes a determination as to whether the violation exists under one of the statutes that we enforce.
If we find evidence that the violation did exist, then we enter what we call conciliation with the company. We enter into a voluntary conciliation where we try to obtain remedy for the individual. Remedies might include -- for example if you were discharged, some of the remedies that you might be entitled to would be reinstatement, vacation, any benefits, any commissions, any bonuses that -- that you might have lost as a result of being terminated.
Under the 1991 Civil Rights Act, you might also be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages. We find many victims of intentional discrimination, usually those that have suffered sexual harassment are entitled to punitive and compensatory damages, in other words, damages beyond what we call "make whole relief." If you have suffered depression, if you've lost your job, if you've had to seek medical assistance, those are types of remedies that you might be entitled to under this 1991 Civil Rights Act.
Charges can be resolved at any part of the investigation before we make a determination. The company and the charging party who filed a charge are given the opportunity to try to resolve the charge. Another new option that you can try to resolve a charge is the alternative dispute resolution process, which is new to the commission. It's the ADR process. Both parties, the charging party and the company, are given the opportunity to resolve the charge for mediation. If they opt to go that route, that charge is assigned to a neutral mediator where a hearing, a mediation is held. That is -- that phase of the investigation is the beginning of the investigation and is a confidential process. If that charge is resolved during mediation, then the charge doesn't go to investigation. If -- if it is not resolved, then it goes to our enforcement unit where we investigate that, but any of the discussions, any of the -- of the discussions that -- that go through the mediation process are separate and apart of the investigation, and they're confidential. And we are very excited about this new process, because we believe that charges can be resolved early if both parties are willing to go through the mediation process.
If we find, based on the allegation, based on the evidence that we obtain, that there is no evidence -- that doesn't necessarily mean that there is no discrimination or it didn't occur, but we didn't find enough evidence to support your allegation, then you the charging party are issued a dismissal and a notice of right to sue, and you have another option. You still have another avenue. You can pursue and file federal suit in court within 90 days of the issuance of the notice of right to sue, but if we do find a violation and if we're not able to -- to resolve the charge, then the Commission reviews the charge for possible filing suit on your behalf.
Again, this is a new -- this is a process, a very condensed form, as to the investigation process. We are here, the staff is here tonight, to talk to some of you individually if you have a matter that you want to talk to us. We're prepared to take your charge tonight. If we're not able to, then we will get the basic information that we need, and we will be in touch with you either by mail or telephone so that we can assist you in filing a charge.
I want to thank you again for having us and, as I indicated, we're in San Antonio to assist you. Please call us. Even if you don't have -- if you don't file a charge, but any information that we can to assist you, we'd be glad to provide.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you, Mr. Esquivel, Ms. Herrera, Ms. Stein, for that very good information that you just provided the audience. Now, this is going to be an opportunity for the audience to ask -- to ask questions of both Delores Crockett and the information that she gave us about the legal rights that you as women enjoy in the workplace, as well as Mr. Esquivel and his staff with respect to how to go about reporting a charge. So we're very willing to take questions, if there are any at this -- this time. I see my good friend, Delia Mendoza, former employee from the Department of Labor. How are you, Delia?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'd like to ask Mr. Esquivel, since I haven't been in San Antonio very long -- I've been in D.C. for the past 28 years -- in San Antonio in the southwest regional office or regional office, could you tell me what your backlog is on cases, if you -- if you have one? You might not have one. More or less.
MR. ESQUIVEL: It is great.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: It is? Is it high?
MR. ESQUIVEL: It is high. Right now we have a -- we have an inventory on recurrent -- we have approximately 16 --
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: I think we need to repeat that question. The question was, in the San Antonio District Office is there a backlog?
MR. ESQUIVEL: We refer to it as an inventory, and we say an inventory because keep in mind when the Commission first opened its doors in 1964 or '65, there were hundreds of thousands of charges that were filed. They were waiting for the Commission to start investigating. There was no staff. There was only a headquarter staff. So we've been trying to play catch-up ever since. In addition to that -- and I'll answer your question. I just want to give you a little bit of background.
In addition to that, every time Congress passes a new law, they add additional responsibilities and obligations, but they don't give us any more staff. This is the first year that Congress has given us sufficient staff to try to address all of the processes that we're required to enforce. We take in between 1,600 to 2,000 charges every year. We have an increase of between two and five percent. I've only been in San Antonio since 1986. We've had an increase of charges between two and five percent every year. Unfortunately, our staff has not increased proportionately. We take in -- our average inventory in a given year is about 23, 23 to 2,400 charges in San Antonio. We resolve approximately 1,800 charges a year, which means that we have a carry over of anywhere between 6 and 800 charges every year, and that grows in inventory, and because we're not able to maintain at least sufficient staff or, rather, we are -- we're not able to maintain a level inventory as opposed -- in relation to the productivity, we continue to have an increase of inventory from one year to the next, however, with the new program that we've just introduced with -- our mediation program with additional staff, we will probably reach a six-month inventory between now and the middle of next year. We expect by the end of the year 2000 we will have -- 180 day will be the maximum time it takes to file a charge, which means that we ought to be fairly current. Right now it will take us anywhere from 30 days to a year and a half to file a charge, and it gets less complicated. As we go into the -- the session later on, I can explain more in detail as to why there is that variance.
That's a long way of answering. That's not a bureaucratic answer, but you needed to know the background of what our inventory is. Thank you for the question.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: I just want to follow up that question and ask you, out of those cases that are filed with your office, how many of those -- because obviously EEOC deals with other issues besides gender discrimination. How many of those cases deal with -- with gender discrimination.
MR. ESQUIVEL: Gender discrimination -- the -- the majority of our cases are filed on the basis of race. Second number is on the basis of sex. So the second -- the highest -- the next highest percentage of charges are filed on the basis of sex. In that category there is sexual harassment, pregnancy and all of the allied statutes that goes with that.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you. Another good friend of mine, Rosa Rosales.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Out of all those cases that are filed, what is the percentage of the cases that you-all dismiss or find cause or issue the right to sue?
MR. ESQUIVEL: I believe the question is how many do we find cause on and how many -- is that --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Or how many where you can't find cause --
MR. ESQUIVEL: I'm sorry?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- and you give them the right to sue letter?
MR. ESQUIVEL: And let me answer that question. The question is how many do we find cause on and how many do we issue right to sue on? Is that your question?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, that's right.
MR. ESQUIVEL: Right now we have approximately a 10 to 12 percent cause finding. That does not mean that we have an 88 percent no-cause finding. It merely means -- I'll -- I'll explain that. What it means is that many times when a person files a charge, they don't want to wait for 180 days, a year and a half, for us to make a determination. Many of them file a charge and immediately ask for a right to sue, and we have to issue that right to sue. They do that because they can get into court right away.
In addition to that, many of the cases that come to us are -- are withdrawn with a resolution, particularly in sexual harassment cases. Sexual harassment cases, because they are very egregious, because they are very embarrassing, because they don't want the publicity, they settle those cases before we even start an investigation, so it's misleading to suggest that we only find cause on 8 to 10 percent of our cases. But you need to know that the -- the issue is the right to sue. We have a mediation program.
Right now we're settling -- 80 percent of our cases are settled in a mediation process, which means that in that process, there is neither cause nor no cause found. It means the parties get together and we resolve all of those charges that come to us in a mediation process. That's 80 percent. 80 percent of our cases that go into mediation are resolved favorably to the charging party. Does that answer your question, Ms. Rosales?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, sir. Thank you.
MR. ESQUIVEL: Thank you, Ms. Rosales.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Angela Garcia, and I'm the past director for LULAC. And certainly I want to make a comment before I ask the question, that I am so glad that these kind of workshops are going on, and I hope they will continue all over in Texas, because it is needed. We need to be informed, and it's very informative, and certainly all of you did a good job. And my question is, can the EEO file against a school district in the State of Texas?
MR. ESQUIVEL: The answer is yes, if the charge is filed on the basis of age. It cannot file -- it cannot sue if it's filed under Title 7. The reason for that, the statute does not permit us to file suit against school districts, unless the allegation is filed on the basis of age.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: What about sexual harassment?
MR. ESQUIVEL: We cannot file -- we cannot file suit against political subdivisions, any -- any political subdivision, unless it is filed on the basis of age, however, the State of Texas can.
Now, what we do when we file -- when we find cause -- and I -- let me explain that, if I may. When we find that we cannot file suit against the political subdivision, we ask the Department of Justice on those cases where we find cause. Then it's up to the Department of Justice to file suit, and they have filed suit on a number of cases.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you.
MR. ESQUIVEL: You're welcome.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Are there any other questions? Yes, ma'am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Where does the Texas Commission on Human Rights come into play with your agency?
MR. ESQUIVEL: We have a --
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: The question is?
MR. ESQUIVEL: The question is, how -- what does the Texas Commission on Human Rights come into -- in play with our agency? Each state has -- I believe each state -- I know 48 states have what they call a Commission on Human Rights, a civil rights agency, and their -- they have state laws that are comparable to EEOC laws, that is, Title 7.
When Congress passed the '64 Civil Rights Act, one of the amendments of the act was that EEOC must defer to a state agency that offers comparable protection or has similar laws to EEOC, so by statute, we have to defer to the State of Texas all the charges that we receive in addition to having a work sharing agreement. Texas cannot handle all the cases that we send them because they have statutory obligations for state laws. Then have different additional -- they have housing and other laws that the Texas Commission on Human Rights has to enforce.
With EEOC I enter into an agreement with them every year that we refer to as a work sharing agreement. That work sharing agreement requires us to send them X number of charges for which we pay. We pay them $500 for each case that they process for us. They in turn make the same decisions or determinations. They process it under federal statute because they're comparable to EEOC, so in effect, they are acting as an agent of us. In addition to that, there are local fair employment practice agencies. In San Antonio there are two additional. One is the city of Austin and the city of Corpus Christi. They have fair employment practice agencies, which we enter into an agreement with them. They do some work for us. We pay them for that. Anyone who objects to their determination can appeal that decision to us. They ask us to do a substantial week review. We request the file from the state, we request the file from Austin or the file from Corpus Christi, depending on where the charge was filed, and we review those files to make sure that it is consistent with our process. If it is consistent with our process, we will agree with the findings of the Texas Commission on Human Rights. If we disagree with their finding, then we start a new investigation de novo. Did I answer your question?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes.
MR. ESQUIVEL: Thank you for your question.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you very much. Do we have any other questions? Yes, ma'am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My question is, who takes on the -- the cost of litigation or of your services?
MR. ESQUIVEL: The question is who takes on the cost of our enforcement responsibilities and litigation. We all do through our tax dollars. It does not cost anyone anything, one cent, to file a charge through any of our processes. You do not need an attorney to file access -- to access our services at any point. If you file suit in court for either -- either on your own or whether you want to file suit in court, then you must retain counsel on your own. If we find cause and the Commission determines that we're going to sue on your behalf, the Commission bears all that cost. It doesn't cost you anything. You do not have to have legal representation if you don't want to. It is a cost borne entirely by the Commission. Filing of the charge, mailing of the charge -- you have some envelopes in your folder there. They're self-addressed envelopes. Even if you want to send us a letter, we're paying for it, too. Nothing -- it will cost you absolutely nothing to access our services at any state. Only when we go to court and only if you want to sue on your own does it cost you. If we go to court, it will be at our expense. Thank you.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Any other questions from the audience? Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry. Okay. All right. If there are no other questions, then we're going to take a short recess. We have refreshments outside, and if you can please be back by about 8:15, I would appreciate it so we can conclude our program at 9:00. Thank you very much.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Well, I hope you enjoyed your break and the refreshments out there. We're ready to begin our second session. And this session deals with employer responsibilities and obligations. And then in the second part we will deal with the local organizations and legal assistance that is available for you right here in the Rio Grande Valley.
I realize that it's late, and I appreciate you coming out this evening, and I'm going to do something that perhaps my mom is going to be upset with me about, but I'm very happy that my mom is here, Ema Tapia. I also have my sister, Gloria Trevino, and two of my cousins, my favorite cousins, Eloy Garza and Mina Gutierrez. So if you hear people cheering in the back, you know it's my folks.
Now, let's now turn to tonight's program. And we're going to, as I said, talk about employer's responsibilities. And with us we have Gloria Almaraz from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs of the Department of Labor, and she will share with us the obligations and responsibilities that employers have with respect to gender discrimination in -- in the workplace. Ms. Almaraz.
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Thank you for inviting the office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs or OFCC, as we are commonly referred to, to speak at this U.S./Mexico border conference. I bring you greetings from Ms. Terri Welcher, who is our Deputy Assistant Secretary For Federal Contract Compliance Programs, who wishes us a very successful conference.
I will be addressing the employer's obligations and responsibilities as they pertain to gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, however, before I start, I would like to give you an overview of my agency's mission. The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs' mission is to ensure that companies doing business with the federal government comply with their contractual obligations. Federal contractor obligations are to provide equal employment opportunity and affirmative action by developing positive programs to recruit, hire and promote workers, who traditionally have been discriminated against in the job market, this being minorities, women, persons with disabilities and Vietnam veterans.
My office is located in San Antonio. We have jurisdiction for over three-quarters of the State of Texas. We do supply and service reviews of those federal contractors who provide a service to the government for which they are compensated. We also do construction reviews of those companies who have contracts who are doing contract work on either federal installations or federal work of some sort, and we also handle two types of complaint investigations, that being a complaint filed on the basis of a medical disability or because the individual is a Vietnam veteran. And, again, this has to be filed against a federal contractor. We do not accept individual complaints. Those are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In 1997, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the addition of women to the -- to the list of groups protected by Executive Order 11246. That is the order that gives us our marching orders, and in this order, a federal contractor is not to discriminate against an employee or an applicant because of their race, sex, national origin, religious beliefs, because they may be a Vietnam veteran or because they have a disability.
For 30 years, we have continued to educate corporate America about the benefits of extending to women equal employment opportunities and the benefits of affirmative action, the most important being the prevention of discrimination. Federal contractors have an obligation to prohibit discrimination based on sex and to prevent sexual harassment. Women must be provided the same hiring opportunities, the same promotion opportunities and the same employment opportunities as are provided to men. Women also have a right to be compensated without regard to their sex. In addition, an employer's work environment must be free of sexual harassment.
As part of our ongoing audits of Federal Contractor's affirmative actions plans, we will continue to address illegal pay disparities. Women who work full-time still earn only three-quarters of what men do. These pay disparities in every one of nearly 500 jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks. OFCC investigators conduct nearly 4,000 compliance reviews and investigate hundreds of complaints each year. For your information, a large majority of the Fortune 500 are considered federal contractors.
You may have heard the term "glass ceiling initiative." This initiative characterizes the fact that women and minorities can see the upper levels of their organizations but are prevented from reaching them by organizational barriers. Through all of our corporate management reviews, our mandate is to ensure that discrimination barriers which prevent qualified women and minorities from attaining such positions are eliminated. If any of the companies we have cited for engaging in discriminatory behavior had taken their affirmative action responsibilities seriously, that is, conducted a self-analysis to determine problem areas and create action-oriented programs to correct these problem areas, they would have avoided public condemnation and expensive litigation.
We repeatedly communicate this simple message. Affirmative action prevents discrimination. We would like to thank those of you in the employer community who have partnered with us and who share the dream that affirmative action is a sound policy and a good investment.
I would also like to invite the federal contractors of the Rio Grande Valley to call our office in San Antonio. We welcome the opportunity to dialogue with you to promote best practices in this area. We are available to provide technical assistance, to include conducting affirmative action workshops for federal contractors.
Due to the shortness of time, I will briefly discuss an employer's obligations to prevent gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. By federal law, an employer has an obligation to ensure that employment decisions and the working environment are free of discrimination based on sex. The sex discrimination guidelines indicate that employers will comply with a set of specific requirements, among them being: One, in recruitment efforts, a company must recruit employees of both sexes for all jobs unless sex is a bona fide occupation qualification. Two, written personnel policies must expressly indicate that there shall be no discrimination against employees on account of sex, three, employees of both sexes shall have an equal opportunity to any available job that he or she is qualified to perform, unless sex is a bona fide occupational qualification. Also, the employer must not make any distinction based on sex in employment opportunities, wages, hours or other conditions of employment. In addition, the employer's policies and practices must assure appropriate physical facilities to both sexes.
In the area of child bearing, our regulations indicate that women will not be penalized in their conditions of employment because they require time away from work because of child bearing. When under the employer's leave policy a female employee would qualify for leave, then child bearing must be considered by the employer to be a justification for leave -- for a leave of absence for female employees for a reasonable period of time, however, if the employer does not have a leave policy, then child bearing must be considered by the employer to be justification for a leave of absence for a female employee for a reasonable period of time. Following child birth and upon signifying her return within a reasonable period of time, such female employee shall be reinstated to her original job or to a position of like status and pay without loss of service credits.
And this leads us to the laws against sex discrimination, which were covered earlier by the -- the lady here from the Women's Bureau. The laws against sex discrimination protect pregnant workers and pregnant women applying for jobs. Under this law, employers cannot deny employment to a woman because she is pregnant, terminate a female employee -- excuse me, a female worker because she is pregnant or penalize a female worker who goes on maternity leave by deducting service time or retirement benefits.
In the area of sexual harassment, because this is such a sensitive topic which can lead to a very lengthy discussion, I am only going to highlight a few of the key issues on this subject. As most of you know, sexual harassment exists where an employee is subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to such conduct is made an implicit or explicit condition of employment or submission to or rejection of such conduct affects employment opportunities or the conduct interferes with an employee's work or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
There are some key terms that all of you need to be aware of. And, again, some of these areas were already covered earlier. Under the quid pro quo, a supervisor expects sexual favors for job benefits or job security. A hostile work environment is defined as when an employee is subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct that is offensive, such that it unreasonably interferes with his or her ability to perform a job, or wither psychological comfort on the job. Then that conduct constitutes illegal sexual harassment.
Now, there are three elements to determine whether a hostile work environment exists. First, the conduct must be sexual in nature, the conduct must not be welcome and the conduct must be severe and/or pervasive. Again, we covered the types of conduct earlier, but what are we talking about? What kinds of conduct actually signal sexual harassment? We have physical, which includes fondling, kissing, pinching, touching, massaging, brushing against a person's body, et cetera. We have verbal, which includes crude or obscene language, sexual innuendos, dirty jokes, discussing sexual activities, unwelcome sexual comments, et cetera. There's also the non-verbal conduct, which is sexually suggestive whistling or facial expressions, sexually explicit calendars, pinups or photographs, sending notes of -- or letters of a sexual nature, et cetera. You have -- gender-based conduct in the workplace exists when the harassing conduct is based on sex or gender of the person. You also have sexual favoritism, granting one person some job benefit because a person has submitted to welcome requests for sexual favors. And lastly you have third-party sexual harassment. Sexual harassment does not have to be directed specifically toward an individual. Sexual conduct in the workplace that is welcome and reciprocated by persons involved but creates a hostile environment for others is considered third-party harassment.
Now, because we do have some contracts -- excuse me, some companies, rather. I think there probably are some federal contractors here, but when sexual harassment has been identified, who is liable? And I think that's a key question, or concern, I should say, that a lot of companies have. In a quid pro quo situation, the harasser is always liable and the employer is always liable. In a hostile environment, the harasser is always liable. Now, there have been some changes to the law, but -- in the last few years where an employer is not found liable under certain conditions. And that being, for unknown harassment, if the employer has a policy against sexual harassment, the company has an effective complaint procedure and that policy is communicated to all employees. These three things have to be in effect before it is possible that the employer may not be found liable of sexual harassment. The employer, manager, supervisor, is liable for harassment by a supervisor, coworker or outsider if he or she knew or had reason to know and failed to take prompt effective action. It was indicated earlier that sexual harassment is no longer female -- excuse me, male to female. It can also be reversed when you have a female supervisor and you have a male employee and also same gender sex, okay? Both. Same gender, same gender harasser and harassee.
So a company -- at this point we are assuming that the company either has been found to -- to have a problem with sexual harassment -- let me rephrase that. The company has now been approached with a possible sexual harassment complaint within its employees. The key steps to responding to this situation is that every -- the company must ensure that every complaint is taken seriously. If you have an EEO office within your company, they should be notified immediately. Again, you must ensure that the person making the report -- let me rephrase that. The complainant is ensured that a timely investigation will be taken to ensure that the issue is being taken seriously.
And, so, again, to summarize this whole thing, you know, hopefully every company has an internal review process or a complaint process whereby individuals who have concerns that they may have been sexually harassed, that they have suffered sexual discrimination or any other types of the other discriminatory practices that I mentioned earlier, we're hoping that the company takes it seriously enough to try and resolve the allegation internally before it escalates and it goes to one of the federal agencies, either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- if you are a federal contractor as I mentioned earlier, we do take -- we do accept two types of complaint investigations, so it behooves a company to try and resolve a complaint internally before it does reach the -- either the federal agency stage or either going to a hearing on this, if you go to court on it. Again, I have really summarized all these areas because some of these things have been covered already, and I did not want to repeat, you know, a lot of the information that had previously been discussed, but also it will allow for a -- a better or a longer question and answer session if anyone does wish to -- to, you know, ask us any questions in regards to the areas that we've discussed.
I do want to thank you-all for allowing our agency to be represented at this session. The Office of Federal Contractor Compliance programs does have a -- a big voice in how companies operate in the company. As I -- I may have mentioned earlier, my office out of San Antonio has jurisdiction for three-quarters of the State of Texas. We are on the road constantly. And we do visit the Valley quite often.
Okay. So if you all have any questions, you know, feel free to do that.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have a question. What is an example of a sexually bona fide occupational qualification?
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: I knew you were going to ask that. I knew someone was going to ask it.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: You want to repeat the question?
MS. DELORES CROCKETT: Repeat the question.
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: She wanted to know what is an example of a bona fide qualification that would prevent females, in this case, from being employed. And I'm going to have to say that at this point my mind is blank.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Strength limitations?
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Well, not really, not really, no. That's another issue that falls under a different area. I'll -- I'll get your name afterwards and I'll get back with you on that because my mind is totally blank on that. I apologize for that.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Just goes to show very few are bona fide.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That's why I was curious. Which one would it be?
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: This is in our regulations, and they don't come up very often because for -- most jobs nowadays can be filled by both male and female, you know, so that's -- I think that's originally when the law was -- was created. At that time, I believe there were quite a number of jobs that existed in which sex was a determining factor as to whether or not, you know, they could hire that individual. But I will get to you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Like maybe professional football or something like that. That would be a --
MS. ESTHER HERRERA: There would be very -- if I may answer, very few jobs that would be bona fide occupational qualifications. And it would be more in the area of a very sensitive position, like an attendant in a dressing room area, public -- privacy issue. Those are the -- are the most common or would be really the only ones that might be acceptable nowadays. So there are very few and only rarely come in as qualifications.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm with the Texas Work Force Commission. A bona fide complaint with an employer is where an employer has been told that they can only hire males in that particular job, like you're saying only females can be working in that -- in the dressing room because only females are accepted there because of the dress change.
MS. ESTHER HERRERA: Because of the privacies.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, where there's privacy involved. That's where you could only say that a female or just a male for that particular job, so it's very rare, but there are some jobs that -- where the law does say that it is okay to say only females or only males. That's the way I understand it.
MS. ESTHER HERRERA: You have to justify it with a very good business reason.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Since we're dealing with the issue of pregnancy or it being an issue dealing with pregnancy or the possibility of pregnancy, when would pregnancy be a bona fide reason for an employer not to put a woman into a particular position or not to hire a woman or to cause her to cease working?
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Up until about -- oh, maybe about ten years ago, companies would prevent women from working in certain jobs because of fears to the unborn fetuses. Depending on -- whether or not they were pregnant at that point. The potential to the -- the childbearing because the women were at that childbearing age, so that was the argument that many companies used to prevent women from being employed in certain jobs. Okay. A woman can work up until the last day of her pregnancy, as long as she is able to complete her job duties. Nowadays you rarely see of anyone who is being forced to go on maternity leave beforehand so the fact that you may be pregnant will not preclude you from completing the duties of your job as long -- excuse me -- as long as a woman is physically -- as long as she feels that she is physically able to complete the task that is asked of her, but she is -- she is the only one who can make that determination.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Would that be true of airline attendants, for example?
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: I -- I know that they have a -- airline attendants, I'm sure that that would be the same -- situation exists with them, because they -- they really follow the laws quite a bit, and they -- between them and their doctor and the company, I'm sure that there are either requirements that have to be met because of the nature, that they are flying, you know, to different locations, but I'm sure that that is going to be looked into, but, again, it all depends on how long the woman can continue to do her job.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: A bona fide requirement, that also falls into place with a truck driver, someone who has to be 21 years of age, where they can say a person has to be an exact age of 21 to do that job. That's a bona fide requirement.
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Right. But -- right. But we were talking about gender.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, I know, but that would come into place, also --
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Yeah, yeah.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- on the age, because of driving, and serving liquor, also that you have to be of age. And that's a bona fide requirement. I'm thinking about job orders. Job orders come in, and an employer tells us they have to be 18 years of age. They can only tell us that if they have a bona fide requirement.
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Truck drivers are governed by the Department of Transportation, and they have very strict requirements as to what a truck driver has to have in order to do that, and one of the first things, besides the age, is that they have to be able to pass the Department of Transportation's physical examinations.
When we do reviews of companies that are -- that are trucking companies or have drivers and they are employed, we really don't get into the -- the actual physical requirements of the -- of the applicant, because that is really governed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: See, in our situation, just in opening with us, when you say that this person has to this and that, then we have to come back and ask you, "Do you have a bona fide requirement?"
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Sure.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And I think that's what -- we have come to a place here in this area where there's got to be a reason for that, but you don't see it as much.
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: No. I think the only area where -- where you have some bona fide, you know, requirements would be your truck drivers. Most other jobs nowadays are such that through education, or you know, especially --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Or -- (inaudible.)
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Right. And most companies now stay away from -- from post-offer physical examinations up until the Americans With Disabilities Act. Federal Contractors under our regulations could request a pre-offer physical examination, the job offer being contingent upon that individual successfully passing that -- that examination, medical examination, but our laws dealing with the rehabilitation program have been changed, have been modified, to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, so whenever we're doing a review of a company, a federal contractor who does have a physical examination, we want to insure, first of all, that the job offer is made prior to the physical examination, you know, being required of that individual because that is against the law, as I think a lot of you know.
And the second thing is that a lot of changes have occurred with the Rehabilitation Act. A company can no longer ask during the hiring stage if that individual has a medical disability. That is now against the law as of December of '98, so I hope you-all are aware of all of those changes.
MS. DELORES CROCKETT: I had a discussion -- discussion during break that I hope you can help me with, because I can't quite remember the -- the rules. And, Irasema, you might need to help with this, as well. This is not related to any of the discriminations we've discussed, but we know it happens. Help us with the law regarding paying overtime. What are the requirements that make sure that an employer doesn't indicate that a person is working as a salaried employee so they do not have to pay overtime or comp time.
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Okay. The Fair Labor Standards Act, which covers those particular instances that you just mentioned really come under the jurisdiction of the wage and hour office, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, however, from my knowledge of the Fair Labor Standards Act, if a person is a salaried employee, then he or she normally will not be paid overtime if they are asked to do so, however -- there's always a however within the federal government. If the individual is required to work an excessive amount of hours and that amount -- and if you were to determine the hourly wage of those hours that he or she has worked and it comes below the minimum wage, then that company is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
One problem that I have found -- and there's some companies in the Valley that -- that -- along with other companies that are guilty of this, also, is that they misclassify a -- a-- an exempt employee, and so you may have individuals who, let's say, a -- a high administrative person who in reality is a clerical individual who is normally not a salaried employee, has been classified as salaried and so the company feels that as long as they are a salaried employee, they can, you know, require them to work additional hours without paying overtime. You really need to look -- I mean, check with the wage and hour office on that situation if you have a question in regards to something that may be going on within your company, contract -- excuse me, companies and contractors, for that matter, have been fined -- fined as a result of misclassifying their employees and have had to pay overtime, back pay and overtime, as a result of those individuals working an excessive amount of hours without being paid the appropriate wage.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Well, actually, I -- I just wanted to state that we're -- we're very fortunate here, because we actually have a member of our solicitor, that is our -- our -- the attorney that represents the Labor Department is here with us tonight, just in case these types of cases arose, and here we have John Caldwell, who I think can -- can also add to your -- to your answer.
MR. JOHN CALDWELL: I can add to that answer. An excellent answer, we'd be here for a long time if I tried to explain in great detail the law with respect to overtime, but the answer is exactly right. There is an exception under the law for workers who are professional, administrative or executive employees. There's quite a complicated test to decide who meets those categories. It has two parts. One is the duties of the employee. Are they really doing administrative work? Are they really doing professional work?
The other part of the test is the salary basis test. Are they really being paid a salary as opposed to an hourly wage? And there you can get into complicated questions about are they docked for missing a day of work or other practices that an employer might follow that would show that while somebody appeared to be paid on a salary basis, in fact, they were treated as an hourly employee because they were docked for various reasons, so it's -- it's -- the short and simple answer is, just because somebody is called one thing, what matters is how they're actually treated, and there are many, many cases where employees have in fact been found entitled to overtime that they weren't paid because they were working in a way that entitled them.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Well, if somebody from our audience, for example, has a question with -- or has a situation with those very particular facts, John, who should they call? Where do they -- where can they get assistance? Do they call our wage and hour office in Washington?
MR. JOHN CALDWELL: A regional wage and hour office would be prepared to answer that, or the Washington office would do it as well.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: So if there is anybody in the audience that has that specific question, please come and see me or one of my staff, and we will be happy to get that information for you.
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: Let me interject. There is a wage and hour field office here in McAllen.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Wage and hour office, field office, here in McAllen.
MS. GLORIA ALMARAZ: That can answer the questions.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you very much, Ms. Almaraz, and as I often say, it's important that women workers know their rights, but it's also very important that women know their resources within their communities to -- to help them defend their rights. And so now we've come to that part of the program where you can learn about the resources that are available within your community.
And let me tell you that it is my honor, my great honor, to introduce to you the chairwoman of the Work Force Commission, Diane Rath. Now, let me tell you something. Ms. Rath came all the way from Austin just to be here with us today. She is a leader in work force development and obviously cares very much about these issues, and as I said, took time from her very, very busy schedule to be with us here today.
Now, before her appointment to the Texas Work Force Commission, Ms. Rath served as volunteer chairwoman of the Texas Council on Work Force and Economic Competitiveness, and I know, as I said, Ms. Rath, you have a very busy schedule, and I appreciate very much the fact that you're with us here, and can we please all welcome her. Thank you.
MS. DIANE RATH: Thank you. I really appreciate it. And even though I work in Austin, my home is San Antonio, but I'm here in the Valley so much, it's always a pleasure to be back with you. I want to make sure -- you should have a handout. Got it? You-all can use as a reference later. It does have phone numbers and maps. I just want to make sure you have that.
And I appreciate being with you this evening to share some of our information in all these courses. And it's a very different approach. We are really in a state of transition, and the state is changing very much, so I want you to be aware of the resources that we have and some of the tools that are here in your own area that we want you to take advantage of, not just if something is going on, but hopefully to help you to make a positive impact, have positive effect on your life, too.
We are very fortunate right here. It's exciting to be in Texas right now because of what's happening. Texas is one of only four states in the country that has a plentiful supply of workers. That's why companies are moving here. That's why we see a tremendous number of relocations and the growth of McAllen and the Valley region, and we're going to -- the reason we have such great job opportunities open up is because we've got workers here, and that's why companies are coming here. And yet our challenge is to make sure that those workers are skilled and trained and can perform those jobs and everybody can access those new opportunities that are occurring. And I think if we really look at some facts about women in the work force, that might help us sort of see the opportunities and where we are right now.
How many women are working today? Women make up 46 percent of America's work force, and more and more women are joining the work force every day, both because of the need to maximize the family income or to pursue their own career goals. In fact, two-thirds of our current labor market expansion is made up of women, and I think we forget that a lot of times. When we talk about the wonderful low employment rates, when we talk about the opportunities, we frequently forget sort of where that's coming from. Women are making up two-thirds of that.
How many women own their own businesses? I think this is fascinating. Eight million American women own their own business, everything from very large, Mary Kays before it became corporate, all the way down to the very small businesses, the corner stores, the bakeries in their home. Eight million women own businesses, and these women business owners employ 18.5 million workers. That's a tremendous number. In fact women-owned firms are growing at twice the rate of all other businesses in the United States, and moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that small business -- and they quantify small business as those that make less than -- 5 million dollars in the past three years, that's small business, if you please -- that they're going to contribute 60 percent of all of the new jobs in this country between now and 2005. Contrast that with big business, which is only going to create 15 percent of the jobs. So, folks, we're creating those jobs every day by your neighbors and these businesses that are starting up and growing so rapidly, and this climate is existing in South Texas and along the border right now.
And the top growth industries for women-owned businesses over the past decade really include those traditionally male fields, construction, wholesale trade, transportation, the wonderful women trucking business. A lot of those trucking company owners are women right now. Agri business and manufacturing. And women are entering these fields at unprecedented numbers because the pay is so much better, folks. And that was mentioned earlier today. Those non-traditional fields traditionally pay 20 to 30 percent more than what our traditional female businesses roles are paying. And yet despite those good salaries, only about 14 percent of the folks entering those high-paying jobs are women. And we need to really look at that.
And how much money do women earn? And this has been referenced today. Right now, based on 1997 figures, the average woman is making a little over $23,000, and that figure is about 73 percent of the income of a man, received from doing the same job, and even at the highest levels of pay, we continue to see those discrepancies. And you may be interested to know that men that are employed in traditional female fields, such as teaching and nursing, also have higher wage earning ability in those fields, too, and yet the current strong labor market has impacted everyone's earnings gains. We're seeing everybody move ahead and have earnings gains because of our strong labor market, and yet look at what's really happening. We've seen earning gains -- and if you adjust for inflation, between '96 and the first ten months of '98, 5.8 percent for black men, 6.2 percent for black women, but only 4 percent for Hispanic men and only 2.6 percent for Hispanic women.
And as our nation's economy becomes increasingly competitive, we have to make sure that all workers, each of us, women in particular, will have the skills they need to be competitive and to be self-sufficient.
And in Texas, in 1995, we really took a different step and went to the head of the nation in preparing our work force. Under Governor Bush and the legislature's vision, we recreated all of our job training programs and merged 24 programs from 10 different agencies to form the Texas Work Force Commission. We are also charged with delivering -- a new method of delivery. Instead of running all the programs from Austin, we now have created a local work force of boards. Those areas are included in your handouts. Those local work force boards are charged with the delivery of the programs for job training education within their area, and importantly they're delivering those programs through a series of one-stop centers. No longer do you have to go to 20 different agencies and 20 different offices to get your needs met. You now can come to one place, one one-stop office, and take care of a wide array of those needs and services. We also are very excited because we have 106 of those offices available in this state right now. We have four local work force areas along the border, and here in McAllen I'm very excited because they are currently in the process of forming their local work force board, also.
Those boards are administering many programs. They are administering what formally was JTPA. It is now evolved to Work Force Investment Act. They are doing the temporary assistance for needy family, job training for those that are receiving welfare cash assistance. The boards are doing that job training. They do the job training that accompanies food stamp recipients. They also do the welfare work training. So a wide array of work services are located at the local level to work with people to really develop their full potential. They also develop child care. We continue to do child labor, payday, veteran's assistance, unemployment insurance, a wide array of those programs.
In the one-stop work force centers, the individuals will enjoy the ability to have no wrong door approach. We are really there to help you with your needs, if you want interviewing assistance, if you want resume writing, if you want job referrals, so we can match you with a job that is available in this area. We will help you with that. We also can act as a referral if there's more intensive assistance needed, if you need additional education or additional training. The resources are located there in that one-stop center.
There are many new approaches that are being added as we implement the Work Force Act that are going to emphasize customer choice and accountability and training. We want to make sure that as we move forward with this new system, there's a strong accountant of factors when you choose and undergo training that you really will get adequate training that has a job waiting for you at the end. We don't want people to go through training and invest their hopes and ambitions with nothing at the end, there's a real job that's waiting for you there, and so that training is really limited to demand occupation, where we know we have jobs waiting for you. That's where we're developing that training to.
In this area we're really looking at many of the effects of NAFTA and who it affects every day and who it affects particularly in this region. We have seen those jobs go across the border or to the Pacific or Caribbean, and we do have those resources from the NAFTA program or the Trade Adjustment Program that we can help you. There's a very special program that's been implemented in the Valley and up in El Paso for those that have been affected from the relocation, particularly in this area from Levi, so we can work with those individuals, help them get new skills, help them with their education so they can be self-sufficient and go on and enjoy the rewards of this area. Those are being administered to the one-stops. So we look forward to continuing that working relationship. We know that we've had almost 29,000 workers affected by NAFTA, in Texas half of those. Over 14,000 are in El Paso. And we have a little over 4,000 that are here in the Valley area. Those women are predominantly women ages 30 to 50, they have been strong local workers for 8, 10 12 years, making 8, 10, 12 dollars an hour, they are primarily Spanish-speaking, are literate in two areas. We know the jobs require a GED or post-secondary training, so we have a skills gap there. We need to take the strengths of these committed loyal workers and give them the skills they need to compete for those wonderful new jobs that are being created every day here in the Valley. And we have got the funding necessary to do that. We just have to put the pieces together and work with the individuals to make sure you get the help that you need.
We are hoping those funds will continue to be reauthorized by Congress, and we are working with you to make sure to the best of our ability we can do that. We know the linchpin of success for most woman is having available child care. I was a single woman for seven years and know you can't have one parent -- any parent successful in a workplace if they're worried about the children at home. So we do have funds available. We're working very hard to expand the availability of those funds with our legislature. Those funds are controlled by Work Force boards. It's available through the Work Force centers so that we can make sure those children are cared for in quality environments, because that's our future work force. And for every dollar we spend on those children up front early, that saves seven dollars in the long run over the course of that child's life. So by working with parents making sure we can invest in those children, in the long run all of us in this state will benefit because child care is not just a social issue, it's an economic development issue. It directly impacts an employer's bottom line because if they have 34 employees that are inattendant with tasks or missing work or have problems attending because of their inadequate child care, that effects not just the employee's life, but dramatically impacts that employer's bottom line, because we know if we're going to strengthen our work force overall, we have to recognize that key component.
I think we need to emphasize that the Work Force Commission -- I represent the public. We are very committed to making sure that the treatment is the same for everyone, that we have a fair application of our laws, that there is not discrimination in the application of programs that are under our jurisdiction, and that everyone receives equal treatment without regard to age, cultural diversity, sexual -- a whole variety of areas and we work very diligently to insure that.
And we want to assure you that our one-stop centers can work with you in resolving those complaints. Many of those one-stop centers can take those complaints. They are a resource for you in this community, and they will be able to help direct your call to the proper resource if you come in with a complaint, so every community should have access to that. You don't have to worry about that 800 number. Come in to our work stops, and the people will be able to work with you and assist you in directing your complaint to the proper agency also.
One thing we're very concerned with is if you lose your job through no fault of your own, no longer do you have to go to an unemployment office and stand in line. We now have made it very, very easy for you. You can apply for those benefits by telephone, your phone, a neighbor's phone, a church, a school. You can use a telephone to apply for unemployment benefits. This makes it much easier for you. Our average time is about five minutes, our average wait time is about one minute, you can't even walk to your car. Under the old method -- we would do the investigations by telephone, and that should make it much more user friendly for you and much more convenient at that time in your life, also.
We want to emphasize that we hope that everyone is going to be treated fairly, but our commitment is to really bring the resources under our purview to each of you. Use our one-stop centers. We invite you and welcome you and hope that you will see what we have to offer because it is a new way of doing business. Texas is changed. No longer are we depending upon oil and cotton. Those days have passed. Right now in Texas our most precious resource is our people. By investing in our people and nurturing them and developing people to their full potential, not only does each individual benefit, but that's also going to make Texas in the next century. So please come visit us, get to know the people on your local work force boards and really use those one-stop centers. I think you will be amazed at the resources contained in them that can help and benefit you as you acquire new skills. So we appreciate being included and look forward to working with you and the other agencies and being a resource with anyone that wants to work with you in the future.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. That was very helpful. Next we have Ms. Raquel Oliva with AVANCE. First we want to say thank you to Raquel and her staff for helping us publicize this event. We certainly appreciate their efforts, and we're very happy that they are able to join us tonight. Ms. Oliva.
MS. RAQUEL OLIVA: AVANCE is a family support group. Most people, when they think of us, they think of parent education, but we're much more. Programs are designed to strengthen the families, to work with families, not just children. And our goal is to empower families, especially women. And we've brought a whole array of services, but some of those include GED and ESL, high school equivalency, learning English, which are some of the things that prohibit women from becoming employed. We also work with them to become leaders in their local community, bring resources to be links to the outside world.
I'm happy that many of our home-visiting staff from Hidalgo County are here tonight learning. They're called the staff development, because they are the ones that are out in the field. They're not in a room in an office behind a computer. They're out knocking on doors, you know, walking out in 104 degree weather, knocking on doors getting people to get services.
We have 80 staff in the Rio Grande Valley, most of which are graduates of our programs and which -- most of which are women, and women who, when they came, didn't have a GED and never worked a day in their lives, have young children, and so we're very proud. And as a result of that, there -- you know, some of them took three years to get their GED, but they've got it.
Some of them took the CDL, the chauffeur's driver's license, to drive our vans five times, but they got it, you know. They got it. And their husbands said they couldn't do it, and they did it, and so it's small steps. They're small steps, but they're very hard steps for some. And I always get very frustrated when we're applying for -- for grants because they want people to accomplish something in three months or six months, but you're starting with a third grade education and you don't speak English, right? And you can't do that in three months or six months. It takes years. And so we're fortunate we're an agency that's in there for the long haul. And because of that long haul, women are able to make some progress, and if these women make progress, their children will make much more progress.
I'm a working mother, as many of you are, and all of us worry. We worry because many of our children have to stay alone because we have minimum wage jobs and we can't afford child care, so we try to work with agencies -- Gloria Ramos is here with Texas Department Child Care Management Services. And if any of you are interested in how to access child care, they will actually pay for child care, not a lot of money, but some money, and so I wanted to introduce Gloria.
We've -- as an agency have applied in collaboration -- there's some fliers out there. This Saturday we're having a youth rally day. McAllen, because of its high juvenile crime rate, has received money, $500,000 a year for the last three years to fund youth service programs. So if any of you are interested in programs for children and youth, it will be at the Memorial Park by the swimming pool this Saturday. And it's free for all parents and their families, so employers, please invite your staff to -- to -- or your employees to attend.
Mothers also worry about gangs. We've done a -- we did a huge survey of over 2,000 families. And that's the biggest concern. Last year one of the children in our program in the Mission area was shot down and killed by -- by a gang, and one of our staff here had her child -- his name was on a list of kids to be shot also. It was another child with the same name, but that's a mother's worst fear. And so we are putting together a -- we have a Promising Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence conference with the U.S. Attorney General's office on Friday. There's a flier out there also. So if you're looking at that as an issue, it's a very serious issue for a lot of people, especially those living out in colonias.
Wilfred Work (phonetic) had an initiative going on for two years, trying to get all the agencies together recognizing that not one agency can do it all. And so we're -- we're looking at this -- this clock that's ticking for some of our families. And there isn't any way that -- that they can be ready enough to make more than minimum wage to be able to support their family in time, and so we've -- we've been fortunate that we've -- we've had a very good working relationship with the different non-profit organizations in the Valley.
I don't know -- I've been an employer for a long time, I've had my own small business, and I've had women beg me not to give them a raise. Why? Because if I give them 50 cents more an hour, they're going to lose their Medicaid benefits for their children. So we are initiating as of today -- in fact we have a big workshop on trying to enroll as many families that are eligible into the new CHIPs program, the Child Health Insurance Program, which will help a lot of these women who are at minimum wage or making $6 an hour, who will be losing their Medicaid benefits. In fact, I think I had a staff there that said, "Oh, no, now I can't get Medicaid. What am I going to do? I can't afford the $300 a month for insurance for my children." So we need to work at those issues, also.
We have -- through state funding we've been able to support a coalition. It's called the Coalition for Valley Families. And I have a membership directory here. And if you'll notice -- it's outside, also -- it's organized by different areas. We have over 100 agencies that are members that are working on everything from children and parenting programs to education to juvenile crime to literacy, you know, all those issues that affect families, and -- because, like I said earlier, we can't do it alone. We all have to work together.
So AVANCE has been here to serve and to bring and to facilitate and -- and to make things happen, and it's been a difficult -- in fact, Gloria has been, you know, partnering with us, and lots of agencies, we partner together, and -- and we sit around the table, and we're so used to competing with each other, that it's been very hard, but I think we're there. You know, we have a level of trust, a level of confidence with each other, because we know that our goal is to serve families, so thank you.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you, Ms. Oliva. Thank you very much.
And last but not least we have Ms. Renee Trevino from the Texas Rural Legal Aid agency, and Ms. Trevino is an attorney who's represented individuals in employment law, civil rights and family law. And thank you for being such a trooper and hanging out with us all evening and being our last speaker, but we're anxious to hear from you, as well.
MS. RENEE TREVINO: All right. I am the last speaker. And I know it's been a long day, a long evening for everybody, so I have overheads, something to keep you occupied. I am with Texas Rural Legal Aid, and I am proud to say, although I completely respect and thank you very much for inviting me here tonight, I am not a federal agency. I do not represent a federal agency, I do not represent a state agency. We are a private nonprofit organization. Our sole duty is to give legal services, free legal services, to low income people and that's something that we try to do in a very, very active way here in the Valley. We have ten offices throughout the state. Basically we cover all of South Texas and very rural West Texas. If there's a big city around, we're not there, so we're here in the Valley.
What are we? We provide free legal assistance in civil cases. We cannot accept any criminal cases. Although we are a private non-profit, we are not a federal agency, we are not a state agency, as I said earlier, we do receive federal funds, which means we have to go by the rules Congress sets. And one of those rules has to do with us not being able to take -- or we're unable to take criminal cases. So we only do civil cases. That means one person against another person, one person, one employee against their employer, one person against a state or federal agency, if benefits or services are not rendered in a way in which a person is entitled to them. But we do civil cases.
And to qualify for our services, you have to be a low income person. Let's face reality. Just about everybody in the Valley is a low income person. We're within 150 percent of poverty level, which -- and the figure depends on how many people in your family and so forth. But most of the people in the Valley do qualify for our services, with a few exceptions. You have to live within our service area, and you must have a case that is within our priorities.
Basically we have one attorney for about every 20,000 people that qualify for our services, which means we do not represent every single -- or people who bring -- every person. Let me see if I can say this right. We do not represent every single person who walks into our office with a case, even if you have a very good case, but what we do try to do, if we are unable to represent you, we will always give you an interview. If you come in during our regular interview hours, you will talk to a paralegal or a legal assistant, who may be able to give you legal assistance there. You may not actually have a legal problem, or you might have a legal problem that's not quite ready to go to a lawyer or a paralegal who might be able to help you with it. So you will have an interview and you will have one-on-one contact in person. If you don't live within one of the cities -- well, I'll get to that in a minute, as far as if you cannot get to our office, you can also call in for an interview. And you will actually talk to somebody and not to a machine.
Now, I'm going to go through very quickly -- because I know it's been a very long evening -- what type of cases we take. And I'm going to try to give you a couple of little examples. Employment cases. We do -- one of the things Texas Rural Legal Aid is known for is our farm worker litigation, and that is representing people who work in the fields for minimum wage violations of their attorney -- of their employers, people who migrate all over the country. Just about everybody in this room, if you're from the Valley, somebody in your family somewhere along the line has been -- worked in the fields. My mother worked in the fields. Most of our attorneys that are from the Valley, they actually worked in the fields. Most of our paralegals at some point in time worked in the fields. So we handle cases for farm workers. Even if you did not work in Texas, if you were recruited here in Texas and you go and work in South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin, wherever you go, we can still represent you usually in the farm worker cases.
But also we do employment cases for people who are not farm workers, for the person who's not getting paid overtime wages, are being told, "You're a salaried employee," although you are not a supervisor, you have no supervisory roles, you get docked pay if you miss a day or if you only have worked for half a day and you don't work the full eight hours, you're only paid for half a day, but you're still a salaried employee. There's all kinds of contradictions. And what -- and I think what I'm trying to do is not answer questions right now but raise a few flags and let you know what we do handle. So we do handle cases where overtime is an issue, where discrimination is an issue.
Mr. Esquivel earlier said that the EEOC is highly overburdened and cannot always -- or will not always pursue a discrimination case. You will go through the investigative process with EEOC. They will give you a right to sue letter. At that point, they're not going to represent you. You don't have an attorney. You can come to our office, either before you file the complaint with the EEOC -- and sometimes we help people fill out the forms with the EEOC, but once you get the right to sue letter, if the EEOC is not going to represent you, you can always come through our office and apply for our services, and we'll give you an honest evaluation without charging you a consultation, which a lot of private attorneys will do, whether or not, one, if we can take the case, and then, two, if we can't take the case, if we can refer you to a private attorney who's going to accept your case at a reduced fee or also pro bono attorneys, because reality is, private attorneys are very reluctant to take employment discrimination cases, no matter what the issue is, whether it's disability or pregnancy or gender or race, because they are extremely, extremely expensive to bring. They are very expensive to litigate and to take to Court, and so that's one of the ways that we also try to help in the employment field.
Civil rights cases, police brutality, INS, wrongful search and seizure, a lot of different issues with civil rights. Police brutality, of course, is also part of civil rights. Public benefits. This is a very, very important area of work we do. Oftentimes you go through the agency, whether it's a federal or state agency, whether it's for social security, whether it's for SSI, which is disability, food stamps, AFDC, which is now -- or Aid For Dependent Children, or what is now called TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or unemployment insurance. Oftentimes you go through the process and you feel that you have been wrongfully denied benefits or you believe that your benefits are wrongfully being stopped. The cessation cases with the SSI where you're still disabled but all of a sudden you're not going to be receiving benefits anymore or you're notified of that, or you have an unemployment insurance claim in which you have been denied your unemployment insurance, sometimes after the fact, after you've already received some funds from unemployment insurance. You're being told you have to pay them back. We take those cases. We -- if all else fails, like I said, you'll have an interview with one of our paralegals. And they'll give you an honest evaluation of your case. If the bottom line is you've got to pay back the unemployment insurance because you never should have qualified in the first place, we'll let you know that, or in our opinion, we'll let you know that, or if we believe that you are wrongfully being denied unemployment insurance or TANF or you're being wrongfully sanctioned.
Under the TANF program, formally AFDC, now TANF, you're required to go in to a work program, which we were actually talking about earlier. One of the things that happens in that program is called "choices." It used to be jobs. Now it's choices. Oftentimes people are sanctioned or part of your benefits are deducted, you're no longer receiving full benefits because they're saying you are non-compliant with the program. Sometimes that's true. Sometimes the sanction is valid. Sometimes it's not. And you just need an advocate to help you explain why and to lodge the formal appeal, which you must go through. Our office handles those cases, as well.
We also handle housing cases, whether it be up against a private landlord for not giving you back your security deposit or whether it be against public housing authority or Section 8 housing because you're being wrongfully evicted, for example. Consumer cases, all types of scams against consumers, education, access to education. We handle those cases, also, and health care issues, also. Generally we will not do any type of immigration suit. Something else that's not on that overhead that's very important is also with violence and abuse being very important to most women. In general -- I'm talking about domestic violence, but also here in the Valley there's a particular problem with different authorities, whether it be the police or the court system necessarily recognizing that violence is an issue or advocating for personally a protective order, et cetera. We also take cases when there is an issue of domestic violence, when there's a custody battle and violence is involved in the domestic relationship. We also help with those. Actually, we have a new program that's being started to deal specifically with custody issues and domestic violence situations, which if you've ever known anybody that's been in those situations, it costs a lot of money to hire a private attorney. But that's a new program.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: (Inaudible.)
MS. RENEE TREVINO: Yes. We also, of course, do family law. It's something I personally don't like doing and I avoid at all costs, but we do do family law. And we have pro se divorce clinics. We have -- in our Harlingen office and our Edinburg office, basically we have two classes. You come in your first class, we've already gotten a lot of information from you. We help you prepare all your pleadings, all those documents that have to go to the court, that have to have all of the legalese and they have to be worded a certain way and they have to contain certain things. We prepare those for people that are part of our pro se divorce clinic, "pro se" meaning that you're representing yourself, but we're helping you through the process, so you come into our first class. I'll tell you, "This is what all these documents are." I'll explain all the documents. "This is what your responsibility is." You have to pay the filing fee, which is, like, $100, around $100. But, you know, you go file your divorce. And then you come back in your second class and we prepare you to go to hearing, and you go before the judge yourself with us there, of course, to hold your hand through all the times. So that's what we do more than anything else. And we help people through divorces. It's a lot quicker, and we're able to handle a lot more cases in that way, because what we do with these classes, it's not just one-on-one, I'm your attorney and you are there you're my client. I'm an attorney that's teaching a class for 10 to 15 people. I heard in Edinburg the last class was 50 people. But what they'll do -- we do is we teach a person the process, the legal process that you need to go through, and we prepare the documents for you and we hold your hand through the hearing, and within 90 to 120 days, you can be divorced for $100, so that's another thing that we do. Yes, family law, we do it. We always do that, also.
Now, what do you need to do to apply for Texas Rural Legal Aid's services? We have several offices throughout the state. I already said that. I have, with the help of Irasema and her staff -- everybody should have one of these. I guess it's orange, peach, whatever color it is volantes, fliers, that are before you. This has its basic information, which I went over today, plus a little bit more, plus it has all our offices that are considered our general program offices, and those are the ones that do everything but farm worker litigation. And then we have our farm worker program, which is specifically for farm worker labor law. And so you have the general program offices, the Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Edinburg, Harlingen, Kerrville and San Antonio, although our San Antonio office -- I said, if you're in a big city, we won't be there. The San Antonio office doesn't give services to San Antonio proper. It's the rural counties around San Antonio. But then our farm worker program, also is listed, main office being in Weslaco here in the Valley.
But for the Edinburg office and the Harlingen office here in the Valley, all you have to do Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, go into our office at 9:00 a.m., and if you're there between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00, for the most part, you will have an interview with one of our paralegals. In the Harlingen office we only do about 21 people each day, and every day we have 21 people at least. If you are not within Edinburg or Harlingen and you live -- for example, the Edinburg office handles Starr and Hidalgo County and all the counties north all the way up to Jim Wells County. And that's where the Harlingen office picks up. I'm from the Harlingen office, so I know. We handle Cameron -- Cameron, Willacy, Brooks, Duval, Kennedy, Kleberg, Jim Wells and a couple of other ones that I always forget. They're up around the Kingsville area, the King Ranch, but we cover a large area.
And so, like I said, we can't accept every case, but please do come in. Spread the word. If you're one of the federal employees, please, let people know that there are free legal services, and if -- even if we can't take the case, we will try to refer them to a private attorney that's willing to do it to a reduced fee or send them to pro bono, which is, of course, free lawyers, volunteer lawyers. And if you have any questions, I'll hand over this to Irasema.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you very much, Renee. We're way over time, but if there are any questions from any of our last panelists, please raise your hand. Yes, ma'am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I just wanted you to clarify, the education, the access to education, what does that mean?
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: The question is, can you please clarify the access to education? What does that mean?
MS. RENEE TREVINO: One of the issues at TRLA in the past has litigated and that we continue to educate people on, for example, would be children who do not reside with their mother and father in a particular school district and the school district is trying to say, "No, this child cannot attend this school," because -- and the law is if a child resides in a particular school district, they are entitled to go to that public school. And so we do that type of case among others.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay. Thank you.
MS. RENEE TREVINO: Who funds us is another question. We are -- like I said, we are funded in part by federal funds through the legal service corporation, which is money, federal money, that is allotted to us by Congress. That's part of our funding. We also receive part of our funding through something called IOLTA, which is a state-run program, which gets the interest off of client trust accounts, which is -- would take about 15 minutes to explain that. But also on private donations, and we're trying to build that base so we're not so dependent on the federal funds.
MS. IRASEMA GARZA: Thank you. Well, thank you-all very much for being here. I'd like to again thank the mayor, Leo Montalvo, Ruben Hinojosa's office, Judge Pulido's office and especially Dr. Reed and Juan De Garza for making their services available to us and certainly for the hospitality that they have given us. I want to thank all of our speakers for taking time to come out and share this important information with you. Thank the interpreters that always do a very good job, and I appreciate your services very much. Thank you very much to all of the audience members. And before you leave, my staff is signaling that I mention that our child care tonight was provided by Gloria Ramos, the director of the Child Care Management Services. Thank you very much. And also you have evaluation forms in your packages, and please fill them out. Again, thank you everybody, and have a safe trip home, and God bless each and every one of you.
MS. RENEE TREVINO: I need to say one more thing. I brought lots of fliers. Please take them. They are fliers that are about Welfare reform, public benefits, food stamps, et cetera. Please take them. They're out front.
(Outreach Session concluded)