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Prevent Lawsuits for Harassment and Discrimination based on Family Responsibility 07-05-2007
- By Ann F. Kiernan, Esq.

Between Mother's Day and Father's Day, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new guidelines to eliminate unlawful discrimination against working moms, dads, sons, daughters and other family caregivers. While there is no federal law prohibiting discrimination based on parental status, caregivers are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the EEOC said it wanted to give examples of how stereotypes and assumptions about working mothers and fathers, grown children who take care of elderly parents, or employees who have disabled dependents can lead to lawsuits for discrimination and harassment under existing laws.

Cases asserting family responsibility discrimination have grown by 400% since 1996, according to a study done by the University of California. Of nearly 1,000 cases filed nationwide, 80 had verdicts or settlements at or over $100,000, and 10 of those were more than $1,000,000. The largest was a 2002 jury award of $11.65 million to an Illinois man who was retaliated against for taking time off to care for his elderly parents. (The case was settled in 2003 for an undisclosed sum.)

The new EEOC guidelines give nearly 20 examples of family responsibility discrimination. For instance:

  • Denying women with young children the same opportunities for travel and promotion given to men with young children;
  • Reducing a woman's work responsibilities after she assumes full-time care of her granddaughter based on the assumption that she will no longer want to work overtime;
  • Reassigning a new mother to less-desirable projects based on the assumption that she is now less committed to her job;
  • Denying a new father leave to take care of his infant son, when a new mother would have been granted leave;
  • Limiting a pregnant worker's job duties based on stereotypical ideas about pregnancy, and not because of a legitimate medical restriction;
  • Refusing to hire the parent of a disabled child, based on the assumption that caregiving responsibilities will make the worker unreliable.
What this means to you: Employers who want to be proactive can add parental and caregiver status to their company's anti-discrimination policies. In addition, managers and supervisors should be trained to spot and avoid intentional or unintentional harassment and discrimination against parents and caregivers.


Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.
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