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Be careful! Caregiver discrimination claims are on the rise

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employee Benefits Program,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

by Abigail Crouse, Esq.

In recent years, employees have begun filing more and more “caregiver” or “family responsibility” discrimination lawsuits.

Caregiver discrimination and family responsibility discrimination are terms that describe the growing number of suits that charge employers with discriminating against employees based on assumptions about their family responsibilities. The EEOC has identified family responsibility discrimination as one of the top issues it’s focusing on.

Discrimination arises when an employer bases employment decisions not on an employee’s actual performance, but rather on stereotypes of how the individual will or should act due to his or her caregiving role.

No federal or Minnesota law specifically addresses discrimination against caregivers. However, treating employees with caregiving responsibilities differently than other employees may violate various employment laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA, the FMLA and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Targeting working mothers

Discrimination against working mothers is the most common form of caregiver discrimination.

Prohibited actions may take the form of treating women and men differently—for example, by denying women with young children an employment opportunity that is available to men with young children. Often, that differential treatment is based on stereotypes, such as overlooking a woman with young children for a promotion because of the assumption that she won’t want to work long hours or won’t be able to travel.

Even well-intentioned differential treatment based on gender stereotypes is unlawful. For example, an employer that moves a new mother to a position with fewer responsibilities and fewer opportunities for advancement in order to give her more time to spend with her new child may violate Title VII if the employee didn’t request the change.

Bias against caregivers

Caregiver discrimination can affect both women and men. For example, some employers grant women’s requests for child care leave, while turning down similar requests from men. Employers can’t deny a man’s request for leave to deal with child care issues if it would grant it to women.

Workplace harassment of men related to their caregiving responsibilities may violate Title VII.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against an employee because of his or her relationship with a disabled individual. If an employer treats an applicant or employee who cares for a disabled child (or adult for that matter) differently than it does other employees, that’s an ADA violation if the decision is based on assumptions about the individual’s caregiving responsibilities.

Advice: Under various employment laws, employers may not retaliate against workers for opposing unlawful discrimination, including caregiver discrimination. That’s why it’s critical to take complaints regarding caregiver discrimination seriously. Respond the same way you would respond to other employee complaints of discriminatory or harassing conduct.

Take proactive steps to make sure you’re not accused of or found liable for caregiver discrimination.


Author: Abigail Crouse is a principal at Gray Plant Mooty. She has litigated employment and labor law cases, including cases involving sexual harassment, disability discrimination, ERISA benefits, noncompetition covenants, trade secrets, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the FMLA. She can be reached at (612) 632-3044 or abigail.crouse@gpmlaw.com.

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