Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Mom of Triplets and Family Responsibility Discrimination in 1st Circuit

Last week the 1st Circuit reversed a summary judgment holding that a mother of triplets had made a sufficient case to go to trial on her charge that she was not selected for a promotion, given to another woman, because the employer applied a stereotype against working mothers. Chadwick v. Wellpoint, Inc. (1st Cir. 3/26/09).

Three comments made by the employer, and contradictory explanations as to why she did not get the position, were enough to convince the Court to send it back to trial. The comments:
  1. Two months before the promotion decision was made, the decision maker found out that Chadwick was the mother of three six year olds and sent her an email saying, ""Oh my -- I did not know you had triplets. Bless you!" (A sentiment that most of us would probably share!)
  2. During an interview for the position, Chadwick was asked what she would do if an associate did not complete a project on time, and apparently unhappy with her answer, the interviewer responded: "Laurie, you are a mother. Would you let your kids off the hook that easy if they made a mess in their room? Would you clean it or hold them accountable?" ; and
  3. In the interview, Chadwick was told, ""if [the three interviewers] were in your position, they would feel overwhelmed."

Interestingly, not only was the person selected female, but she was also a mother of two, ages nine and fourteen. (Chadwick had not only the six year old triplets, but also an eleven year old.) The appellate court gave that claim short shrift.

Working mothers everywhere should take comfort in the view expressed by the Court:

In the simplest terms, these cases stand for the proposition that unlawful sex discrimination occurs when an employer takes an adverse job action on the assumption that a woman, because she is a woman, will neglect her job responsibilities in favor of her presumed childcare responsibilities. It is undoubtedly true that if the work performance of a woman (or a man, for that matter) actually suffers due to childcare responsibilities (or due to any other personal obligation or interest), an employer is free to respond accordingly, at least without incurring liability under Title VII. However, an employer is not free to assume that a woman, because she is a woman, will necessarily be a poor worker because of family responsibilities. The essence of Title VII in this context is that women have the right to prove their mettle in the work arena without the burden of stereotypes regarding whether they can fulfill their responsibilities.

The appeals court did affirm the trial court's decision not to allow expert testimony on sexual stereotyping because the expert did not relate it to the specific individuals. That view is critiqued at Judicial Flubber at the Feminist Law Professors blog.


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