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Maryland Senate President: A “Women Only” Commission on Harassment. Really?

This from the Baltimore Sun’s Legislative Reporter Erin Cox (who does excellent work reporting from Annapolis) on the first day of the session:  “Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Wednesday that the General Assembly will create a ‘powerful’ new commission to recommend how the legislature should root out sexual harassment in its ranks.

“Miller said he and House Speaker Michael E. Busch will create the panel, which Miller said should be composed of only women, [emphasis mine] to study how other states and countries successfully handle allegations of sexual harassment.  The panel will hold public hearings.

“This is something that is extremely serious, and the public needs to know we’re serious,” Miller told reporters Wednesday morning, a few hours before the opening gavel of the annual 90-day legislative session.

“Busch, like Miller a Democrat, said the legislature’s leadership has been conducting an education campaign.

“‘Some of the men don’t even realize that their actions are being seen as harassment. Well, we make sure that they know that,” Busch said. He added, “With the women legislators, we want them to feel comfortable going through the structure and the process, and having some anonymity.”

So let me get this straight:  in the infinite wisdom of our General Assembly leaders we are going to have a committee of women only because men don’t get it?  It’s true that legislatures are often referred to as a “boys’ club.”  A “girl’s only” [please excuse the inappropriate use of the term – I am using it for impact only] panel, however, actually just reinforces that perception.

I have practiced employment law for nearly 33 years.  I was an adjunct professor for 30 years – teaching employment discrimination law.  One basic tenet of stopping discrimination from occurring is not to segregate based on protected status.   This is, unfortunately, precisely what Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch’s panel will be doing.

Can you imagine if Mr. Miller said “we will have a men only committee” or picked some other protected status (fill in the blank here – race, religion, age, sexual orientation, etc.) because only someone of that particular status should look into or understand how things should work?

I am frankly astounded by the blind spot here demonstrated by our elected leaders.  The only way to effectuate change is to have everyone participate in effecting that change, with a diverse group of individuals involved.  I am hopeful Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch will reconsider the women’s only panel.

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