Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Palmer Case and Women in the Foreign Service

There is an interesting piece on the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training that I have been meaning to share with you on The Palmer Case and the Changing Role of Women in the Foreign Service. It reads, in part:

"There have been a number of prominent women who have served in the State Department over the past century: Francis Willis, the first female career Foreign Service Officer to become ambassador; Clare Booth Luce, a political appointee as Ambassador to Italy; Constance Ray Harvey, who was awarded the Medal of Freedom for her work during World War II, not to mention the number of women who served recently as Secretaries of State. But the road to equal opportunity for women has often been a bumpy one. The unprecedented opportunities for women which opened up during WWII closed just as dramatically after the war as the Foreign Service returned to its previous hiring practices. It was very difficult in the postwar years for women to be hired by and promoted within the Foreign Service. From 1961 to 1971, recruitment of women remained at 7% and the rate of promotion was slow.

Several incidents eventually forced the State Department to enact major changes. Several women in the late 1960s formed the Women’s Action Organization (WAO), which worked closely with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), to push for abolishing the regulation that prevented women who married from entering or remaining in the Foreign Service.

More famous was the Alison Palmer case. Palmer had begun her career in the Foreign Service in 1959 specializing in African affairs. Several ambassadors had objected to her assignment to their embassies in Africa in the late 1960s, and during one assignment, she was expected to act as social secretary to the Ambassador’s wife. She then started an internal grievance procedure through the Department’s Equal Employment Office charging sex discrimination. In 1969 Palmer, then stationed in Vietnam, was notified that the EEO had found in her favor but refused to enter the report in her personnel file. In 1971, she then filed a sex discrimination lawsuit which she won three years later. Her victory resulted in an order from management barring all discrimination in assignments. In 1972, the State Department overturned its ban on the marriage of female diplomats. It also took steps to improve inequities in housing allowances and in the recruitment process, and issued the Declaration on Spouses, which removed wives from their husbands’ performance evaluations.

In 1976 after numerous attempts at getting higher ranking positions as a Foreign Service Officer, Palmer then filed a class action lawsuit against the State Department for discrimination in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. After several years of litigation, a 1989 court order found that the Department had discriminated against women in the written portion of the Foreign Service Officer Test. The State Department was then restricted in administering written exams that had adverse impacts on women. In 2010, Palmer (at left) decided to terminate the lawsuit as all parties agreed that the State Department had finally demonstrated compliance of the court orders by making reparations to women who were affected and modifying hiring systems."

 I have blogged previously about Palmer and this issue here. You can read the whole ADST piece here.

No comments: