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Study: family responsibility discrimination claims have dramatically increased

The Center for Work Life Law recently published a study on litigation trends in family responsibility discrimination cases which found a dramatic increase in such claims.  Family responsibility discrimination occurs when an employer discriminates against an employee because s/he has family caregiving responsibilities, such as caring for newborn children, elderly parents, or disabled spouses.

The study found that in the past ten years, while employment discrimination claims decreased from the prior ten years, family responsibility discrimination cases increased by 269%.  The study also found that employees win family responsibility discrimination cases at higher rates than other types of employment discrimination cases.  Nationwide, employees have won 67% of family responsibility discrimination cases that went to trial in the last ten years; and employees have won 72% of such cases that went to trial in Maine.

The researchers who conducted the study interestingly found that claims involving discrimination based on elder care responsibilities as well as claims filed by male workers have increased over the past ten years.  While these claims are still small in number compared to the more common family responsibility discrimination cases involving discrimination against pregnant workers and female employees with children, the increases are notable.  As the baby boom generation continues to age, more and more workers have to care for elderly parents and relatives.  Furthermore, it has become more socially expected and necessary for men to take bigger roles in family caregiving responsibilities; and this family caregiving role for men clashes with stereotypical notions that such caregiving is “women’s work.”

Family responsibility discrimination can violate a variety of different state and federal laws.  The study provides the following hypothetical example to illustrate many of the laws that can be implicated:

A man who is fired after he took statutorily-protected leave to care for his wife with a disabling condition may sue under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and may have an additional claim under his state’s family leave law or paid sick leave law. He may also have claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) if he has evidence that the termination was motivated by the employer’s desire to avoid high medical insurance premiums due to his wife’s condition, and a claim for discrimination under the ADA based on his association with an individual who has a disability. Evidence that the termination was caused by a belief that men should not be caregivers or that men who care for family members are not ambitious, dedicated, and dependable because they are doing “women’s work” could lead to a claim of sex discrimination under state and/or federal law. He could also include common law claims such as wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and breach of contract, depending on the facts of his employment and the laws of the state in which he worked.

The Maine Employee Rights Group has represented many Mainers in a wide variety of family responsibility discrimination cases.  We are very familiar with the laws that protect workers from family responsibility discrimination.  If you have experienced family responsibility discrimination, please contact us to learn more about your rights.