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El Segundo – Betsy Butler in the service of equality

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Betsy Butler in front of her California Women’s Law Center office in El Segundo. Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom

by Jeff Mitchell

Betsy Butler was elected in 2010 to represent the 53rd Assembly District in Sacramento. The following year, for legislation she authored on behalf of war veterans, she was named the 2011 Legislator of the Year by the Vietnam Veterans of America, In the same honor was bestowed on her by the American Veterans (AMVETS).

Also in 2012, following redistricting, Butler narrowly lost reelection to the 50th Assembly District, which included parts of the South Bay.

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But Butler’s Sacramento work didn’t end.

As executive director of the California Women’s Law Center in El Segundo, she is spearheading two pending state bills, both authored by her close collaborator Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino.)  Leyva is chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus.

One of the bills would eliminate the statute of limitations on rape. The second would prohibit non disclosure agreements in sexual assault, and sexual harassment settlements. Non disclosure agreements have been faulted for protecting repeat sexual offenders. 

Since its founding in 1989, the California Women’s Law Center has served as an advocate for the legal protection of women and girls, with an emphasis on those who are low-income.

This focus has led to Butler to address the pay disparity between men and women. Women on average earn 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. In a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Butler wrote that Federal Title IX legislation led to a 17,000 percent increase in the number of girls playing high school soccer between the law’s enactment in 1972 and 1991, when the U.S. women won their first World Cup title. 

But pay inequity between men and women remains largely unchanged.

“Some of these girls have grown up to be among the finest athletes in the world, and they are now in a position to demand another kind of gender parity: pay equality,” Butler wrote.

Over two dozen members of the U.S. Women’s National Team have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging they are paid less than their male counterparts, despite doing the same work and despite winning four World Cup championships and four Olympic gold medals.

“Pay inequality is familiar territory for female athletes. The road to ‘equal pay for equal work’ has been rocky not only for athletes but for working women across the country,” Butler wrote. 

A key to pay equality is fostering mutual respect between the sexes, she said.

“Respect for one another – no matter your gender, your skin color, your religion or any other distinguishing characteristic – is learned early. I sense that the majority of today’s young men and women are more open-minded, less judgmental. I could be wrong about that, but I hope not,” Butler said.

While Butler said she is increasingly hopeful for the plight of women and girls — especially because of their growing interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Nevertheless, she said, the challenges ahead  are not insignificant.

“There are so many unknowns ahead including climate change, women’s health and many global uncertainties. Will there be pay equity in their lifetime? The majority of today’s young people will reach their 80s, 90s, even 100 years of age. When I talk to young women I try to empower them to get involved in the issues they feel are most important because it’s their future. I tell them there’s no room for complacency,” Butler said.

Betsy Butler, executive director of the California Women’s Law Center. Photo by Jessie Lee Cederblom (@glcederblomphoto)

Born to serve

Butler, 56, was born in Sacramento and went to Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks. She graduated from San Diego State University and the Executive Program in Management at UCLA.

Her  interest in politics developed at San Diego State.

“I have been very fortunate to have had a number of amazing mentors in my life. Starting in college, I had two professors, Harlan Lewin and Lyndelle Fairlie, who suggested I consider a career in public service. I took that advice and interned for three people during college: Assemblymember Lucy Killea, U.S. Senator Alan Cranston and Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy.  McCarthy hired me after college and I worked in various capacities for him for five years. He was an amazing boss and a genuine public servant who ran for office to help others. I doubt I would have stayed in public service had I not benefited from his generosity and wisdom,” Butler said.

Because CWLC is a non-profit, she won’t say which candidate she is backing for president in 2020. She did say that she has been encouraged by the emergence of several women who are viable contenders.

“Women are running for office at every level, in every state, and winning in record numbers. This is an important and significant accomplishment. But, we have work to do. Women make up more than 50 percent of the population but are not represented in decision-making positions in these percentages – from the boardroom to the White House, and everywhere in between. We need to keep encouraging women to participate in every profession and seek the highest positions in each industry until we are equally represented,” she said.

In 2018, the center help file 33 amicus briefs with the courts. 

Among them was a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of California’s FACT Act, a law pertaining to the limited and harmful practices that ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ in California promote. 

The center also filed briefs in the California Supreme Court and California Court of Appeal in support of domestic violence victims, and a brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a campus sexual assault victim. Other issues addressed by the briefs included LGBTQ employment discrimination, sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and transgender veterans.

Under Butler’s leadership, CWLC has earned the respect of civil rights leaders — both in California and across the nation.

Members of its board of directors include Hermosa Beach Mayor Stacey Armato, a real estate and development attorney and Lois Thompson, a partner with Proskauer Rose LLP, a national law firm.  

“Betsy has helped the organization stay focused on the areas in which poverty, race and ethnicity, and advancing age present added challenges to women and girls who already face roadblocks or challenges because of their gender,” Thompson said in an email.

Armato credits Butler’s extensive contacts in both California politics and the women’s and civil rights movement for the center’s growing success. 

“She can easily fill up a room. Betsy’s professionalism and commitment are unparalleled,” Armato said. “She is an unapologetic, fiery advocate for women and girls without a voice.” 

To reach the California Women’s Law Center center online, call (323) 951-1041, or visit CWLC.org.

Jeff Mitchell is a South Bay freelance news journalist. Reach him at j.edward.mitchell@gmail.com

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