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Stereotype about motherhood, by itself, can count as bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Office Communication,Workplace Communication

Remind managers never to base employment decisions on how they believe employees would act based on their gender, race, religion or disability. Make sure managers focus solely on the performance itself, not on the reasons behind the performance.

When managers inject their own values and prejudices into an evaluation, they open your organization to liability. Caution managers (both male and female) that making even seemingly stray remarks could be viewed as stereotyping. For example, as this case shows, stereotyping about the "qualities of mothers" is a form of illegal gender discrimination all by itself.

Recent case: Elana Back, a school psychologist, sued for gender discrimination, claiming the school denied her tenure because it presumed she couldn't devote time to her job and be a good mom at the same time.

Her proof: Supervisors asked her when she planned to have another child, and made comments such as, "if I was a young mother I wouldn't continue my commitment to the workplace," and that they "did not know how she could possibly do this job with children."

The school said it denied her tenure because she lacked organizational and interpersonal skills.

After the trial court tossed out Back's claim, a federal appeals court reinstated it, saying that gender stereotyping is, in itself, discrimination.

The decision's significance: Merely using stereotypes about the diligence of working mothers can be enough proof for a female worker to build a discrimination claim. (Back v. Hastings on Hudson School District, No. 03-7058, 2nd Cir., 2004)

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