Small Business and Family Discrimination

Key steps small business owners need to be aware in light of emerging laws on family responsibilities discrimination

 

Small business owners need to know about existing family discrimination laws and implications on doing business.

On June 23rd, 2014 a White House Summit on Working Families was convened to "... focus on how we can strengthen our nation’s workplaces to better support working families, boost businesses’ bottom lines." "Topics included key issues such as workplace flexibility, equal pay, workplace discrimination, worker retention and promotion, opportunities for low-wage workers, elder care, childcare, and early childhood education."

There is a growing trend of lawsuits filed in U.S. courts by workers alleging they were discriminated against because of their obligations to care for children, parents, or disabled family members. In the last fifteen years, such litigation has risen by 400% The reasons for such a dramatic increase include the growth in the number of employed mothers and the media coverage of high-profile lawsuits.

These lawsuits are more likely to prevail than in other types of employment discrimination cases and the average award given to successful plaintiffs is over $100, 000, with one high-profile case awarding $25 million to the plaintiff.

These cases have been easier to win because of the outrageous comments made by the employer's managers and supervisors about the working caregivers.

Here are some examples:

 

  • A female salesperson with outstanding performance reviews alleged that she experienced hostility when she returned from maternity leave, including scrutiny of her work hours when no other employee's hours were scrutinized. Her manager refused to allow her to leave to pick up her sick child from daycare and threw a phone book at her telling her to find a pediatrician who was open after hours. The plaintiff was awarded $625,000 in damages.
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  • A female sales representative who had worked for the company for eight years applied for a promotion indicating that she was willing to relocate. Her male supervisor responded by asking her why her husband was not going to take care of her The male supervisor also did not consider her for the promotion because she had children and he did not think that she would want to relocate her family. She won $1.1 million at trial.
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  • For three years, the female plaintiff worked for a company that leased cars to corporate clients. She had two kids. When she told her supervisor that she was pregnant with a third child, her supervisor said, "Oh, my God, she is pregnant again." A few months later, the supervisor shook her head at the female plaintiff and said, "you're not coming back after this baby."
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   When the plaintiff was five months pregnant, she was fired by a manager who said, "Hopefully this will give you some time to spend at home with your children." The next day, the manager told coworkers "we felt this would be a good time for her to spend some time with her family." The plaintiff won her case and was awarded over s 100,000.

 

 

 

  • A school psychologist at an elementary school received positive performance reviews for two years and was reassured that she would receive tenure. As the Len u re decision approached, her supervisors repeatedly expressed concerns that it was "not possible for her to be a good mother and have this job." The plaintiff's commitment to the job also was questioned because "she had little ones at home."
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   One supervisor told her "please do not get pregnant until I retire." The court allowed the case to move forward.

 

 

 

  • A male state trooper was denied leave to care for his newborn and was told by his female supervisor that his wife would need to be "in a coma or dead" for a man to qualify for leave as the primary caregiver According to the female supervisor, "Cod made women to have babies and, unless he could have a baby, there is no way he could be primary caregiver."
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The male plaintiff proved that there was a violation of state leave laws at trial and was awarded 5375,000 in damages.

In light of the rising number of family responsibilities discrimination cases and the higher likelihood of success of these cases, employers should consider taking the following steps to ensure that such issues do not arise in their workplace.

 

 

 

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About the author

Emma Luevano

Emma Luevano is a regular contributor to LatinBusinessToday.com on legal issues relevant to small and medium business. She is a partner at the law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP (www.msk.com) who advises and represents management on labor and employment matters, including sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, public policy violations, wrongful termination, class action wage and hour issues,and retaliation.