New York lawyer Joann Trezza recently filed suit against her employer, The Hartford Inc. insurance agency, charging that her superiors repeatedly passed her over for promotions because she is married and has children.
Trezza charges that those promotions consistently were granted to either single women or men with kids, and that her supervisors claimed that women, and especially mothers, are not good planners. Trezza’s lawyer Steven Eckhaus explained, “If you’re a man with children, employers see you as more responsible more capable of doing your job. If you’re a woman with children, many employers see it as a problem.”
Although other parental-discrimination cases have been filed, they remain few, perhaps because most potential plaintiffs are not adequately protected under current discrimination laws. Only a few states and cities address familial status in their workplace discrimination laws, and federal law does not address the issue.
Since Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination based on marital or family status, many companies are free to discriminate with impunity. Firms that are suspected of discriminating against mothers more so that fathers could face sex discrimination charges, although this charge is difficult to prove.
President Clinton called on Congress to pass a federal law protecting caregivers from workplace discrimination during his State of the Union address last month, but tangible progress on this goal has yet to be seen.
Discrimination issues consultant Craig Platt says that he has frequently seen cases where companies grant positions requiring relocation and travel to single employees because it is cheaper to relocate a single individual than a whole family, and because employees with children are perceived as less flexible.
Judy Clark is the president of a national human resources consulting firm called HR Answers. She noted, “I don’t know if it will ever be as blatant as, ‘You’ve got kids, I won’t hire you. It will be more subtle than that: ‘You aren’t working as hard; you aren’t putting in the extra effort.'”
Donna Lenhoof, a lawyer for the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C., argues that effective discrimination law should test whether an employee made an “individual determination” about an employees’ skills, or whether the employers’ determination was based on an unfair assumption that parents are by definition less productive or willing.
Susan Meisinger, senior vice president of the Society for Human Resource Management, believes that the labor market is too tight for anti-parent discrimination to exist, at least on a large scale. “The whole trend has been for greater flexibility, and to allow for greater work-life balance,” she said.