WorkLife Law Blog

WorkLife Law aims to end Family Responsibilities Discrimination, which is employment discrimination against workers who have family caregiving obligations. It includes discrimination against parents of young children, pregnant women, and workers who have aging or sick parents, spouses, or partners.

Friday, July 14, 2006


New Report on Family Responsibilities Discrimination

What is family responsibilities discrimination ("FRD")? What do employers and employees need to know about it? Are there really lawsuits because of it?

Mary C. Still of WorkLife Law has authored "Litigating the Maternal Wall: U.S. Lawsuits Charging Discrimination against Workers with Family Responsibilities,” documents more than 600 such cases since the 1970s, with the majority occurring since 1990.

The report shows that employees are indeed suing because of FRD.

“We’ve seen an increase of nearly 400% in the last decade,” says Still, a sociologist and WLL Faculty Fellow. “These kinds of cases used to be relatively rare, but are becoming much more common, as lawyers learn how to win and employees realize their rights to family time.”

Many of the cases involve workers who are mothers, but 43 cases were filed by men caring for family members, including children, parents, and spouses.

Discrimination against family caregivers can be blatant – as when employees are told “You can’t be a mother and a good employee” – or subtle – as when employers assume a worker would not want to move for a promotion because of caring responsibilities.

Discrimination or biases against workers with caregiving responsibilities is behind the “maternal wall,” the phenomenon of women’s career stagnation due to the perception that mothers are not ideal workers. Recent scholarship has pointed to the maternal wall as a large part of the enduring disparity between men’s and women’s earnings.

There have been a couple of stories recently in the media about FRD. Check out ABC News, "Picking on Moms in the Workplace," and NPR Radio, News & Notes with Ed Gordon.

For more information about FRD and some examples of how FRD is demonstrated in the workplace, visit our website.

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