Maternal, Family Care Workplace Discrimination Lawsuits Increase

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Workplace Discrimination Lawsuits

There has been a "flood" of workplace discrimination lawsuits filedsince the mid-1990s because of "family care-giving obligations,"including pregnancy and maternal care, the New York Times Magazine reports. According to the Times Magazine,family care discrimination lawsuits claiming workplace discrimination"were rare" until recently, in part because employers "could often getaway with it." The 1993 Family Medical Leave Act guarantees workerssome time off after childbirth, as well as for serious health problemsand care for a sick family member. However, the law's "scope" is"limited," and it does not cover companies with fewer than 50employees, the Times Magazine reports.

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According to the Times Magazine,"what constitutes discrimination in the eyes of the law is changing."The number of workers since the mid-1990s who have filed suit againsttheir employers for alleged discrimination related to familyobligations -- such as becoming pregnant or needing to care for a sickchild or relative -- has increased by more than 300%. The workersfiling the claims have "invoked a dizzying array of laws to prove theywere mistreated," including Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the1990 Americans With Disabilities Act and various state and localregulations. Women filed four-fifths of the more than 1,150 lawsuits.More than half of the plaintiffs in the suits won their cases, comparedwith a success rate of less than 20% among plaintiffs who filed "moreconventional employment discrimination cases," according to the Times Magazine.

Theincrease in lawsuits has coincided with new research studying the wagegap between mothers and the rest of the work force. According toresults of a study published in the May 2007 issue of the American Journal of Sociology,mothers were consistently viewed as "less competent and less committedand were held to higher performance and punctuality standards" thanother employees, the Times Magazine reports. The mothersin the survey also were 79% less likely to be hired and, if hired, wereoffered a starting salary of $11,000 lower than women without children,the Times Magazine reports. In addition, lawyers havesaid that although some employers might tolerate or welcome an employeewho has one child, some firms will "balk when discovering" the womanhas become pregnant again.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionin April held a hearing during which some experts portrayed"unflattering comparisons" between benefits and support for workingfamilies in the U.S. and those in Europe, according to the Times Magazine. Zachery Fasman -- a partner at the law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker-- at the hearing said that family care discrimination lawsuits couldbe used to force companies to alter valid business practices, such asmandatory overtime and strict attendance rules. EEOC in May issuedenforcement guidelines that detail the "myriad situations" that arebarred under existing law, the Times Magazine reports.The guidelines also call on companies "to make it easier for allworkers ... to balance work and personal responsibilities" (Press, New York Times, 7/29).
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Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Women's Health Policy Report, search thearchives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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