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Litigating the Maternal Wall
July 11, 2006

Family Responsibility Discrimination (FRD) is what it's called. Workers claiming they were discriminated against because of their responsibilities as family caregivers.

Litigating the Maternal Wall: U.S. Lawsuits Charging Discrimination Against Workers With Family Responsibilities by Mary C. Still, Research Director and Faculty Fellow at the Center for Worklaw Life at University of California Hastings College of The Law, is an article that looks at lawsuits from what I will call "an FRD perspective."

Executive Summary:

This report examines the growing trend in lawsuits filed by workers alleging they were discriminated against because of their family caregiving responsibilities.

The number of such cases has grown from a total of eight in the 1970s, when the first case was heard in U.S. courts, to 358 in the first half of the 2000s. In the last decade (1996-2005), the number of family responsibilities discrimination (FRD) cases filed grew nearly 400% from the previous decade, from 97 cases to 481.

This report describes where the cases are most prevalent - in which industries, amongst which kinds of workers, and in which parts of the country. It discusses case outcomes, as well as possible causes for increased filings.

Analyses show that rapid growth in (FRD) lawsuits began in the 1990s and continues today. Increases are correlated with media coverage of high-profile lawsuits involving maternal wall discrimination; growth in the number of employed mothers; diffusion of information about FRD cases amongst the legal profession; and changes in law making it more attractive to file discrimination lawsuits. FRD lawsuits have now been heard in 48 of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

More FRD cases have been filed by non-professional employees than by professionals, and plaintiff s are more likely to win FRD lawsuits than other types of employment discrimination cases.

The average award is just over $100,000; the largest award to date is $25 million. The lawsuits analyzed in this report make a strong case that companies’ effective handling of workers’ caregiving responsibilities is an issue of risk management; companies that mismanage their work/life programs tend to fare poorly in court. Amongst companies sued for discriminating against workers with family responsibilities are nearly 30 that have been designated as “Best Companies to Work For” by Working Mother magazine or have been touted by Fortune’s “Most Admired” list as amongst the best in the nation for treating employees well. Companies such as IBM, Wal-Mart and UPS have been sued multiple times.

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