Gender Discrimination and Disability Discrimination May Lead to Caregiver Discrimination

The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a sex discrimination lawsuit by a Maine woman who claims she was denied a promotion after supervisors found out that she has four children. The lawsuit was filed by Laurie Chadwick, an employee of health insurer Anthem Health Plans of Maine (formerly Wellpoint). According to the Wall Street Journal, court papers say Chadwick had worked for Anthem for nine years, with good reviews, and been promoted once before the incident.

When another promotion became available, Chadwick applied. However, the WSJ wrote, the hiring manager discovered shortly before deciding that Chadwick had four children — an 11-year-old and six-year-old triplets. The promotion went to another candidate, one with less experience and lower scores on performance evaluations. The hiring manager allegedly told Chadwick that “It was nothing you did or didn’t do. It was just that you’re going to school, you have the kids and you just have a lot on your plate right now.” Chadwick filed a gender discrimination lawsuit, which was thrown out by a federal district court in Maine but reinstated by the federal appeals court. Anthem denies that there was any discrimination.

An April 28 story in the Boston Globe says that Chadwick’s case was the first in Maine to raise the issue of sex discrimination when an employer assumes a woman will prioritize family ahead of work. However, the issue of “caregiver discrimination” — employment discrimination against people who are responsible for taking care of a young, elderly or disabled person — is not new. In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new employer guidelines in late April explaining “best practices” for employers whose workers are also caregivers. Those guidelines updated a 2007 document explaining when and how caregiver discrimination may break the law.

No federal law prohibits employment discrimination against caregivers, although the laws of individual states may. (The Maine legislature is now considering such a law.) Rather, the EEOC has written, discrimination against caregivers of any gender may constitute illegal gender discrimination or disability discrimination in the workplace, as would retaliation and creating a hostile work environment. In all cases, the prohibited behavior can be described as stereotyping. It is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act for employers to discriminate against workers who care for disabled people because of an unfavorable stereotype — for example, an assumption that the worker might frequently be absent because he or she cares for an aging parent.

Similarly, employers may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if they make assumptions about a caregiver based on his or her gender. Like Chadwick, many women face discrimination from employers who assume that their caregiving responsibilities or pregnancy will interfere with their work performance. That’s true even when, as may have been the case with Chadwick, the employer believes it’s acting in the employee’s best interests. Men may also be victims of this unfair gender stereotyping, often when employers assume that men are not or should not be caregivers. Men are entitled to all of the same family and medical leave granted to female employees, except pregnancy leave.

Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP specializes in representing victims of all types of job discrimination. Our gender discrimination lawyers and disability discrimination attorneys represent victims from around the United States, including victims of illegal caregiver discrimination. If you believe your job has suffered because of discrimination in the workplace, including retaliation or creation of a hostile work environment after you reported discrimination, please contact us as soon as possible to learn about your rights and your legal options.