Employment & Labour

Societal shift a remedy for gender discrimination: Ray-Ellis

By Kathy Rumleski, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

A 2019 global survey from job search firm Glassdoor that found women earn 84 cents for every dollar men make demonstrates that the wage gap continues to be a real issue, says Toronto employment lawyer Soma Ray-Ellis.

Despite legislation to ensure pay equity, women still face discrimination in the workplace as is evidenced by ongoing legal battles, says Ray-Ellis, a partner and chair of the Employment and Labour Law Group with Gardiner Roberts LLP.

“Female employees in Canada are better off than they were, but the wage gap continues to be a significant issue,” Ray-Ellis tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“This is a direct result of the disproportionate work women do between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. in their homes," she says.

Beyond the traditional workday of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., women have unequal labour expectations placed on them after hours, Ray-Ellis says.

“Women are expected to go home and do their second job. The vast majority of childcare and household chores still fall to women,” she says. “These are societal issues that need to be addressed. They can’t easily be changed through legislation.

“We have legislated a regime both in terms of employment equity and pay equity, which insists that women are paid the same as men for work of equal value,” Ray-Ellis says.

The laws have helped to reduce the gender gap that arises out of stereotypical male and female work, she says.

“Under the Pay Equity Act, we’ve moved from the concept of equal pay for equal work to one of equal pay for work of equal value,” Ray-Ellis says.

Pay discrimination on the basis of gender is also prohibited by human rights legislation, she says.

However, Canada is ahead of the United States in the pay equity battle, Ray-Ellis says.

Legal action against a major U.S. retailer that’s been ongoing for the better part of a decade shows how real the fight is for American women trying to achieve wage parity with men, says Ray-Ellis.

According to an article in The Guardian, about 100 female employees have filed gender discrimination lawsuits against the world’s largest retailer, alleging denial of equal pay.

The round of lawsuits follows a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a class-action lawsuit that alleged this discrimination at the company. The top court didn’t make a decision on the merit of a lawsuit involving 1.5 million female employees but ruled it was too large to constitute a class-action suit.

Now some plaintiffs are filing individual regional lawsuits against the company, the article states.

“They are going to file the lawsuits one at a time which will bring the corporation to a standstill from a corporate and legal perspective,” says Ray-Ellis. “I’m buoyed by the fact these women are not giving up.”

Ray-Ellis, who has been published extensively in the area of discrimination and human rights, says until there is a societal shift in thinking, the wage gap will continue.

“Our perception of competence is skewed. Women have different values and present themselves differently on the job than men. However, men are still valued more and less judged in the workplace.”

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