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Women employees at LBNL charge sex discrimination

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Wednesday September 05, 2001

Six female employees filed a grievance in late July with the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory charging that female administrative specialists are underpaid and underpromoted, compared to their male counterparts. 

“I’m very disappointed, that with an institution of this stature, we would have these kind of problems in the new millennium,” said procurement specialist Julie Rodriguez Jones, who has worked for LBNL since 1971. 

Jones, along with five other female administrative specialists in the LBNL Procurement Department, has filed a grievance with the labs claiming they have been overlooked for promotions and are earning far less than recently-hired male employees whom the women often train to do the same work they do.  

In addition the women claim that men receive promotions over women who have seniority. 

The women are being represented by the University Professional and Technical Employees Union, which represents technical workers, researchers and administrative personal. 

According to a fact sheet compiled by the six women, there are 22 procurement specialists; 12 are women. But according to LBNL salary records, seven of the eight lowest-paid employees in the department are women. In addition, four of the five highest-paid Procurement Department employees are men.  

On average, women are paid $650 a month less than male employees. In one case a woman who has 23 years experience on the job is being paid $24,000 a year less than a man who was recently hired. 

LBNL spokesperson Ron Kolb said he could not comment on the specific grievances, but did say LBNL does not have discriminatory employment policies.  

“We don’t believe we discriminate,” he said. “Our pay policies are established based on market averages, the responsibilities of the task and the individual’s work performance.” 

The six women first filed a grievance with their direct manager, Bill Wasson, last June. According to an Aug. 29 union press release, Wasson agreed salary inequities existed, but said he was unable to do anything about the problem, because pay raises had already been scheduled. Wasson rejected the grievance and the administrative specialists took the grievance to the Director’s Office. 

According to union steward Matt Kolowski, the issue will now go to arbitration as soon as a third-party arbitrator can be agreed upon, which should be by next week. Kolowski said arbitration is generally used in union-management disputes to avoid costly court cases. He said the arbitration system generally works well if both sides agree to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.  

“This is the standard operating procedure,” Kolowski said. “The manager of a department denies a grievance and then the laboratory throws all of its resources behind the manager without determining whether the manager or the employees are right. It seems like there should be a better, less expensive way.” 

UPTE Co-director Daniel Martin said LBNL has in-house attorneys and it usually benefits them to put up as many procedural obstacles as possible in the hope the employees will wear out. 

“Essentially, they lead their opponents through lots of procedural maneuvers so the party suing essentially gives up because it costs these folks more money and more time than they have available to them,” he said. 

Martin said the union is solidly behind the women. He said the union represents 11,000 UC employees and gender discrimination is an important issue to all of them.  

“Honestly I think this is just the tip of the iceberg and this issue will likely bring a lot more employees forward who have experienced the same thing,” he said.  

Jean Lawther, a 23-year employee who joined in filing the grievance, said she complained about the pay discrepancies to Wasson, her department manager, a year ago. She said she was disappointed nothing had been done despite assurances the situation would be corrected.  

“I don’t know where this goes from here,” she said, “but I’m hopeful they’ll see the light and do what’s right.”