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Sunday, October 16, 2016

President of Constitutional organization to speak at URI on Oct. 18

Caroline Fredrickson to speak about gender inequality

Caroline Fredrickson, President of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, will speak about gender inequality Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the URI Honors Colloquium, “Inequality and the American Dream.”

Fredickson, a lawyer and author, will give an historical overview and examination of the persistence of race-based and gender exclusions from workplace protections at the free public lecture, titled “Under the Bus – How Working Women Are Being Run Over,” at 7 p.m. in Edwards Hall, 64 Upper College Road.

Fredrickson will explain how these exclusions continue to affect wages, hours, benefits, and family life for women workers. 

She’ll also examine the changing nature of work relationships in the era of the “gig” economy – in which employers rely more on independent contractors than full-time employees – as well as the disproportionate impact of independent contracting on women and people of color, and ways to protect workers’ rights.

Following her talk, she will engage the audience in discussion of what reforms are necessary and the role of unions, working women, and people of color in making those changes happen.

Fredrickson has been widely published on a wide range of legal and constitutional issues and is a frequent guest on television and radio shows, including a notable appearance on the Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor in 2012, where she defended the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Fredrickson is author of Under The Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over.

The University asked her a few questions about her work and her upcoming lecture:

Q: You’ve devoted your professional life to issues such as civil and human rights, marriage equality, voting rights, the role of money in politics, labor law, anti-discrimination efforts. What inspired you to take such a career path?

A: My parents had a strong influence.  Our dinner table conversation always focused on issues of the day and a discussion of right and wrong.  I grew up feeling strongly that fighting for civil and human rights was our duty and never really contemplated any other direction. 

Q: Pew Research indicates that Americans are skeptical that women can overcome obstacles that keep them out of top positions in business and politics. What do you see as the major obstacles women face to achieving top leadership positions, whether in politics, business, science or other areas of the workforce where they are underrepresented? What, if anything, can women or the country as a whole do to overcome those obstacles?

A: Right now, I think it is hard to deny that women face ongoing discrimination in these leadership positions — much of it out in the open.  We need to see women — and men — call this out and support women who are facing these obstacles.  It is not OK to disparage women directly or indirectly by denying them opportunities to prove their worth. Women are presumed to be less qualified or committed because they have, or may someday have, children or family responsibilities. An important reform for all Americans is to make it easier for everyone to combine work and family through strong family leave and child care policies.

Q: In the same vein, what obstacles do racial or ethnic minorities face to achieving top leadership positions and, what if anything can be done to overcome them?

A: Similarly, there’s too much acceptance of inappropriate language and behavior by corporate and political leaders. “Political correctness” has been used as an attack against women and minorities who demand to be treated as human beings. It isn’t just banter or locker room talk; it is destructive and needs to be named and shamed. And there is also the more subtle discrimination of lowered expectations and denial of opportunity to take on important roles.

Q: If minorities and women face different obstacles on their paths to success, do those obstacles need to be addressed separately, or does there need to be a holistic approach to address inequality in the workforce?

A: Stronger anti-discrimination laws, better enforcement, and a modern suite of family policies including paid family and sick leave, more flexible working hours, living wages, and affordable quality child care would lift all boats.

Q: Michelle Obama has said, “I think when it comes to black kids, it means something for them to have spent most of their life seeing the family in the White House look like them. It matters.” If Hillary Clinton were to win the presidency, could her election have a similar effect for young girls, who will spend four or eight of their formative years looking at a woman in the White House and knowing that a young girl grew up to become President of the United States?

A: Without a doubt. Part of taking on a challenge is knowing someone like you has done it before. Role models matter.

Q: Matters of equality are often decided by the Supreme Court. The next president will nominate at least one Supreme Court Justice and almost certainly more. Given your organization’s commitment to the Constitution, what traits or ideals do you believe are important for the next Supreme Court justice nominees to possess?

A: Supreme Court Justices should believe in the core values of the Constitution: equality, liberty, and due process among others. Right now, our Court could use some Justices with different experience than those serving now who have all been judges and/or academics. Experience could include time in elected office, such as Chief Justice Earl Warren, or a career representing people, such as Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Before joining the American Constitution Society, Fredrickson served as the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office and as general counsel and legal director of NARAL Pro-Choice America. In addition, Fredrickson was chief of staff to Sen. Maria Cantwell and deputy chief of staff to then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. During the Clinton administration, she served as special assistant to the president for legislative affairs.

Fredrickson graduated summa cum laude from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in Russian and East European Studies in 1986 and from Columbia University School of Law with a Juris Doctorate in 1992. In law school, she was a Harlan Fiske Stone scholar, served on the Columbia Law Review and co-founded the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. Following law school she clerked for James L. Oakes of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.