When one joins the La Palma-Cerritos Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), that person also becomes a member of AAUW California and AAUW National. The mission of all AAUW branches is to advance gender equality for women and girls through research, education, and advocacy. All branches help to raise funds to support AAUW Fund, which is the world’s largest source of funding exclusively for graduate women. The AAUW Fund provides grants and fellowships to support aspiring scholars around the world, teachers and activists in local communities, women at critical stages of their careers, and those pursuing professions where women are under-represented. It also provides funding and a support system through Legal Advocacy for women seeking judicial redress for items such as unequal pay, sexual harassment, and sexual discrimination in the workplace and in educational institutions and activities.
According to Dianne Owens, President of AAUW California, 2020-2022, with donations received from branches nationwide and with interest money from endowments from members over many years, the AAUW National awarded $4 million dollars to 259 women and community projects in 2019. President Owens said that AAUW National is currently in the process of finalizing a list of recipients for 2020-2021 which might be similar in a amount.
AAUW National allocates $100,000 annually to support Legal Advocacy cases that are selected after careful consideration and review by a panel of experts. According to AAUW CA President Owens, last year AAUW National awarded a total of $95,000 to five individuals to support their cases. Plans are being made to help two more active cases this year. Persons interested in more information about the AAUW Fund regarding Grants, Fellowships, and potential Legal Advocacy Fund cases can contact AAUW by e-mail at aauw.org.
One of the cases that AAUW National has been supporting since 2015, is the case of Aileen Rizo, a math consultant for the Fresno County Office of Education (FCOE) in Fresno, California. Rizo was hired in 2009 after earning a master’s degree and teaching for 13 years and moving from Arizona to California. She sued the FCOE after she learned, in 2012, that a male colleague was recently hired and placed at step nine on the county’s 10-step pay scale where she had been placed on step one. She filed an internal complaint and was told that the FCOE based new employees’ salaries on just one factor: the employee’s previous salary history, which was higher than her past salary.
Rizo filed suit under the Equal Pay Act and California’s sex discrimination statutes in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in 2014. In April of 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court handed down an unfavorable decision in Rizo’s case. Rizo argued that using prior salary alone to calculate current wages perpetuates existing pay disparities and undermines the legislative intent of the Equal Pay Act, which is to address pay inequity based on sex.
On April 9, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court held that using prior salary alone, as a “factor other than sex,’ or in combination with other factors cannot justify a wage differential which would allow employers to profit on this inequity and perpetuate a gender wage gap in direct contrast with the intent of the Equal Pay Act. On August 30, 2018, the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools filed a petition for an appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court decided on July 1, 2020 decided to leave in place the Ninth Circuit Court decision that employers cannot use past salary history to justify a pay disparity between male and female employees. The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal by the Fresno County Office of Education. California’s law has since changed so that now employers cannot use a person’s salary history in determining their starting salary. AAUW continues to support Aileen Rizo, and others, in their fight for equality through funds donated to the Legal Advocacy Fund by members of all AAUW branches.
The La Palma-Cerritos Branch of the AAUW donates funds each year for the AAUW Fund that supports Grants, Fellowships, and Legal Advocacy cases. They have been proud to meet and hear past women who have received AAUW Grants and Fellowships as guest speakers at their meetings and special programs. Members were delighted to hear of the success of Legal Advocacy Fund litigant Aileen Rizo.
On the local level, the La Palma-Cerritos Branch of the AAUW works to advance equity for women and girls by raising funds to award scholarships to outstanding girls at Cerritos College who plan to attend a four-year college or university. The branch also has raised funds to send middle school girls to a Science Technology and Engineering (STEM) Tech Trek Camp at Whittier College sponsored by AAUW California. These STEM Tech Trek camps are designed to encourage girls to study STEM subjects and consider careers in the STEM fields.
Persons with an associate or higher degree, from an accredited college or university, who would like to join in the AAUW’s mission of advancing equity for women and girls, are invited to start by joining the La Palma-Cerritos Branch of the AAUW. Due to COVID-19 virus restrictions, the La Palma-Cerritos AAUW branch is meeting virtually at this time. Interested persons in joining the branch can contact Membership Co-Vice Presidents Joan Flax at 562-860-0642, or Diane Merrick 562-594-4129 for future in-person meeting dates