More than 850 guests comprising of business leaders, politicians and attorneys gathered at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco on June 17 to celebrate the 36th Annual Luncheon of Equal Rights Advocates, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational access and opportunities for women and girls based in San Francisco.
This year’s theme was “Breaking the Glass Ceiling,” chosen to reflect the advancement of women in all professions. It also underscores the fact that much work remains to be done to ensure equal opportunities for all women.
“These were women, predominantly Latinas, African Americans and poor, who were at the end of a long assembly line of hurts, injustices and wrongs committed against them by a relentlessly racist, sexist and undeniably oppressive system,” said Arcelia Hurtado, ERA’s Executive Director. “These are the types of horrible pressures that disempowered women in our society have to endure, sometimes with tragic, unforeseeable and certainly unintended consequences.”
Hurtado joined ERA in 2009 after more than a decade of defending the indigent—most recently handling post-conviction appeals for life sentences for women on death row. During her speech, Hurtado said she felt her determination to fight injustice was emboldened after this experience.
Hurtado also spoke about the wage gap between men and women and the significant role that she sees ERA playing in the future fight for social justice.
“A woman earns 77 cents to every dollar a man makes,” she said. “Whether its equity in pay or promotions, stopping sexual harassment or discrimination, or halting violence against women in the workplace and against girls in school, ERA will continue to defend the rights of women everywhere.”
The event’s highlight was the keynote address by Arianna Huffington, a co-founder of the online news blog The Huffington Post. She’s also the author of numerous books, including On Becoming Fearless…In Love, Work, and Life. She was chosen as the keynote speaker because of her progressive views on important social issues, ranging from the rights of gays and lesbians to immigration.
Huffington spoke about the importance of ERA’s work. She also touched on the importance of having a balance between work and life, part of which included making “an appointment with sleep” to make sure one rests enough proportionate to one’s work.
She also spoke about the importance of being fearless in all aspects of life, and also suggested that failure is an integral part of success. Huffington offered an adage to help Luncheon attendees remember her point. “The main difference between success and failure is perseverance,” she said.
ERA client and Luncheon guest Michelle Maher had a reason to celebrate the organization’s successes. Last year, Maher was represented by ERA in a lawsuit against the City of Fresno, alleging that gender discrimination motivated her dismissal from the fire academy despite being one of the top students. A jury agreed with Maher’s claims and awarded her $2.47 million.
“I’ve never had someone believe in me and fight on my behalf before,” Maher said. “I felt so empowered and lucky that ERA took my case as an individual. I owe the organization so much – they made me feel important. I wasn’t seeking special treatment. I only wanted equal opportunity. If ERA did not exist, women would not have a voice.”
ERA was founded in 1974 by four young female lawyers who felt that they needed to fight for the rights of women and young girls. After many decisive victories, ERA’s attorneys are currently among those representing plaintiffs in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the largest discrimination class action lawsuit in U.S. history. All proceeds from ERA’s Luncheon help to support the organization’s many services, including a toll-free Advice and Counseling hotline and educational workshops provided throughout the state.
The Luncheon was emceed by KRON-4’s Pam Moore and was sponsored by Wells Fargo, Farella Braun + Martel LLP, Hanson Bridgett LLP, and Pacific Gas and Electric, among others.
If you have questions about your legal rights or for more information about ERA, please visit www.equalrights.org or call (415) 621-0672.
Story by: C. Adán Cabrera