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  • Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia


Interviews of, Articles about, and Books that Include Sonia

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Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Go Ahead, Be A Coal Miner!

by Dorothy Gilcrest,  STAR - Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Alabama women yearning to mine coal may now do so. Nothing can stop the good ladies of Washington state who plan careers as bellhops. Ambitious women of Ohio are free to take jobs in shoeshine parlors and poolrooms.

These and other emancipations were decreed quietly this summer in a little noticed decision of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The decision was in the form of a guideline giving a new interpretation to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The EEOC concluded that state protective laws - restricting the hours women may work, jobs they may hold or weights they may lift - are discriminatory and therefore invalid.

Hereafter, if a woman is refused employment because of a state law, the EEOC considers this a violation of the Civil Rights Act. She may then attempt conciliation with the employer or file suit in federal district court. The employer cannot use the state law, the EEOC says, as a defense against his refusal to hire the woman.

All 50 states have some form of protective legislation. Twenty-six states have laws prohibiting women from holding specific jobs.

These include an Alabama law prohibiting women from working in or about coal mines.

Although most litigation involving the 1964 Civil Rights Act deals with minority groups, sex discrimination is a hot issue as well. During the first four years of EEOC's life, 27 per cent of the charges of employment discrimination involved allegations of sex discrimination.

Most such legislation, adopted during the reform era in the early part of this century, was designed to protect women from hazardous occupations and the "evils of the sweat shop."

Other laws have less logical or chivalrous origins. Laws forbidding women to work in mines stem in part from the superstition a mine will collapse if a woman enters it.

Few feminine careers have been stifled from legislation such as the Ohio law forbidding women from being section hands. But other state laws obviously have handicapped women legitimately seeking less arduous jobs.

Ten states prohibit women from mixing or dispensing alcoholic beverages for on premises consumption. Many states, including Massachusetts, Maryland and Washington restrict night employment for women. Ten states restrict the weights women may carry. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin forbid women from pursuing vague "dangerous or injurious occupations."

Such laws restrict a woman's freedom of choice, Miss Sonia Pressman, senior attorney for the EEOC's office of general counsel, said : "Women should be free to decide whether the monetary compensation justifies a strenuous or dangerous job. Women are guaranteed this freedom under the 1964 Civil Rights Act."

Reacting to the EEOC guideline, the Ohio Department of Industrial Relations has issued a statement that it will no longer prosecute alleged violations of Ohio laws that are in conflict with the EEOC guideline until the Ohio General Assembly has conformed Ohio laws with federal statutes.