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The night Republicans voted to curtail court awards for women claiming workplace gender bias, state Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) bitterly denounced the motives of a GOP senator who led the move.
Sinicki charged that Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) had openly pined for a bygone "Leave it to Beaver" world of stay-at-home moms during a Senate hearing.
"His words were to the effect of, he didn’t believe women belonged in the workplace," Sinicki quoted Grothman as saying. "He believed that women belonged at home, cooking and cleaning and having babies."
In her speech on the Assembly floor, she pointed to Republicans, who argued the law subjected business to frivolous claims.
"Well, I just wonder how many women in this room, particularly on that side of the aisle, believe that. You worked hard to be here, didn’t you? But yet you’re about to go along with the notion that women don’t belong in the workplace, and women don’t belong making as much money as men."
Sinicki co-authored the 2009 bill to allow people to seek punitive damages in state court while alleging employment discrimination. So her emotion as Republicans moved to overturn that law may be understandable.
But that’s a strong claim about what Grothman said.
To be sure, Grothman’s unvarnished attacks on welfare benefits, affirmative action, early sex education and many other government programs have endeared him to conservatives, while inspiring liberal scorn and even a blog that tracks his utterings.
And we know Grothman thinks a "war on men" -- in the form of affirmative action -- is favoring women and discouraging job prospects for males, according to his 2010 speech at a tea party rally in Washington County.
But did he endorse sending women back to the kitchen?
Grothman told us he never said that.
So we went to the tape … or tried to anyway.
Sinicki suggested we seek out archived WisconsinEye video of an exchange between her and Grothman at a March 2009 Senate committee hearing, when the Sinicki-sponsored measure moved toward becoming law.
We watched it. Twice.
But there was no such statement.
Turns out Sinicki’s memory betrayed her. With help from her staff, we found the dust-up at an August 2007 public hearing on the matter. The bill did not advance that session, when partisan control of the Legislature was split.
At the time, Democrats pointed to equity studies showing Wisconsin women’s pay badly lagging males in similar jobs. Allowing punitive damages could help level the playing field, they said. Grothman, the leading critic on the other side, argued the pay statistics were skewed by instances in which women chose to take a break from working, and therefore fall behind males who keep working. Republicans also argued existing law already made discrimination illegal.
This is how the 2007 exchange went:
Grothman: "In my personal experience, the reason most men make more than most women is that most men set themselves up or view themselves as breadwinners in the family. So, frequently it’s not unusual to have a guy working 50 or 60 hours a week and the gal’s working 35 or 40 hours a week. So of course the guy makes more.
"So when I view these sort of bills, I kind of view them as a hatred for that sort of family, or whatever you call it.
"Do you view that (sort of family) as a problem, or do you view that as maybe one of the major factors as to why the average man makes more than the average woman in this country?"
Sinicki: "I’m kind of appalled at the senators’ comments, to tell you the truth."
Committee chairman Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee: "Yeah, I hear ya."
Sinicki: "Sen. Grothman, I don’t know when the last time you looked at what a typical family looks like. The typical family is not the family of the 1950, '60s or even the 1970s. A lot of families now are single mothers. Women have made great strides in this country to get good education -- you know what we even go to college now. Isn’t that amazing? Women so many times do the exact same job as men. We have woman surgeons. We have woman lawyers. We have woman legislators. Thank God I’m a legislator because (that means) I get paid the same as you!
"I don’t even know how to answer that question because I know if you look at any average city block, in any average city in America, you’re going to find a large percentage of households that are headed by women, that are the breadwinners.
"This is the year 2007. Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver are very difficult to find nowadays."
Grothman: "My concern is this. If there is a family who elects to live like Ward and June Cleaver, that you feel it’s up to the government to stick their nose in the thing … and find a way for there to be another woman who makes more money to compensate for it. It’s kind of social engineering."
That is the crux of the exchange.
Before we -- and Sinicki’s staff -- reviewed the exchange, Sinicki told us her clear memory was that Grothman said at the 2007 hearing that "women were never meant to make as much money as men, they belong at home."
But we found no such comment.
Sinicki told us she felt Grothman’s comments implied he felt a woman’s place was not in the workplace. Grothman told us he said nothing of the kind, and that Sinicki had missed his point.
Our take is that at the hearing, Grothman made clear he thinks anti-female bias is trumped up, and he decried government intervention on pay. But he made no remarks about what role women should assume in society.
We asked him to elaborate on his opinions.
"Women are great workers," Grothman said, noting there are five women on his staff. "I love women working."
Grothman said he objects that some people are hostile to the idea of women staying home. He personally sees value in it.
"It’s nice if women can stay at home with their children," he said, adding: "It’s nice if guys can support their families."
In arguing against repeal of an anti-gender-bias bill, Sinicki summoned up her memory of comments by Grothman when the Legislature debated the original bill in 2007.
She didn’t quote Grothman directly but claimed he said, in effect, that women had no business in the workplace and should be at home "cooking and cleaning and having babies."
Grothman did speak up for families where the woman has chosen to stay home to raise children. But that’s a far cry from him saying the whole world should do that, and that women "belong" at home.
We rate Sinicki’s statement False.
Wisconsin Eye video archive, Rep. Sinicki comments on SB202 during Assembly floor debate, (at 7:35 p.m. mark), Feb. 21, 2012
Wisconsin Eye video archive, Rep. Sinicki and Sen. Grothman exchange at Senate Labor Committee (starts at 2:19 hour mark), Aug. 28, 2007.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Senate approves bill allowing judges to award damages for sex discrimination," April 28, 2009
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Assembly passes relaxed wetlands regulation," Feb. 21, 2012
Interview with Rep. Christine Sinicki, Feb. 24, 2012
Interview with Sen. Glenn Grothman, Feb. 24, 2012
Senate Bill 156 2007, text, 2007-08 Wisconsin Legislature
Sen. Grothman, video of remarks to Tea Party group, summer 2010
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