More employers face caregiver-related suits

ByABC News
October 25, 2007, 2:31 AM

— -- As the number of employees with elder and child care demands grows, more workers are filing lawsuits claiming they've been discriminated against on the job because of their family caregiving obligations.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which recently issued its first guidance for employers about the issue, reports an "upsurge" in cases with many resulting in awards to plaintiffs. The guidance provides examples of how bias can occur so that employers are aware of the risk.

The type of discrimination is growing so fast, it's been dubbed "family responsibilities discrimination." The Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, which tracks these lawsuits, says such cases have risen by 400% in the last decade.

"This is on employers' radar screens," says James Matthews, a Philadelphia-based employment lawyer. "Law firms are really talking to their clients about it."

Cases usually involve an employee who must care for a child, elderly parent or disabled spouse. The employee may claim that he or she was retaliated against, not hired or discriminated against by an employer because of his or her caregiving responsibilities.

Pregnancy bias claims grow

The cases also may involve male caregivers being treated more favorably than female caregivers or gender stereotyping, such as discriminating against an employee because she is a new mother. Overall, cases claiming bias against pregnant employees filed with the EEOC have risen from 3,977 in fiscal year 1997 to 4,901 in 2006.

One recent case is an EEOC lawsuit filed in September against news and financial services company Bloomberg. The lawsuit alleges the company demoted and reduced the pay of female employees after they announced their pregnancies and after they took maternity leaves.

Some women were replaced by more junior male employees, the EEOC says. The lawsuit also alleges that the same pregnant women and new mothers were excluded from management meetings.