Caregivers Increasingly File Lawsuits Against Employers Alleging Discrimination

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The number of lawsuits stemming from "family responsibilitiesdiscrimination," or discrimination against employees who have familycare-giving responsibilities at home, has increased by 400% in the last10 years, according to the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, USA Today reports. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionalso has reported an "upsurge" in cases, many of which result in awardsto plaintiffs, and recently has issued its first guidance for employersabout the issue.

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According to USA Today, thelawsuits -- which usually involve workers who care for a child, elderlyparent or spouse with a disability -- "generally fall under threeareas":

  • Employees claiming anemployer denied leave or retaliated against a worker for taking timeoff to care for a child, which is covered by the federal Family andMedical Leave Act;
  • Employees whoallege employers violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Actby denying workers accommodations to care for a relative with adisability; and
  • Employees whoallege gender discrimination, such as women with young children whoclaim they are not given the same treatment as new fathers.

In addition, USA Todayreports that the "family caregivers issue is growing along with therise of the 'sandwich generation' -- people who care both for childrenand an aging relative." The latest U.S. Census Bureaudata show that about 33% of workers have at least one family memberwith a disability, and about 10% of working families with childrenunder the age of 18 have a child with a disability.

Donna Wagner, director of gerontology and director of the Center for Productive Agingat Towson University in Maryland, said, "Most caregivers have been veryreticent about even bringing the topic up in the workplace" becausethey are "concerned they won't be seen as a good worker." MarionSomers, a geriatric care manager, consultant and lecturer, said moreemployees "are just now starting to speak up" as they become aware oftheir legal rights to take time off work to care for aging or disabledrelatives or children, noting that some "people are still extremelyhesitant. They fear losing their job or not getting a promotion"(Armour, USA Today, 10/25).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily HealthPolicy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The HenryJ. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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