Even if your state or local laws protect employees based on their "marital status" or "family responsibilities," that doesn't mean parent/employees can create their own schedule. You can still require their presence at work when you need them, as the following case shows. What you can't do, however, is assume that because a woman has children, she can't be reliable and, therefore, shouldn't be hired.
Also, beware of a backlash from your efforts to accommodate employees with children. For example, if you accommodate a parent's day care schedule, extend the same level of accommodations to a childless employee with elder care needs.
Bottom line: Create policies that respect family issues but don't rely on parental status as a qualification for the particular benefit.
Recent case: TV producer Suzanne Guglietta was granted a later shift to meet her child care needs. But after two years, her shift was given to someone else. Guglietta was offered an earlier shift, but she refused it because no one would be home to care for her child. Her boss said she had to accept the new shift or resign. She refused to do either, so she was fired.
Guglietta sued, alleging sex discrimination because she was subject to an "adverse employment action" (being moved to an unacceptable shift), while male employees with children were not. A district court tossed out her claims, saying that "child care is a gender-neutral trait" that is not protected by Title VII. (Guglietta v. Meredith Corp., No. 3:03-CV-1108, Dist. Conn., 2004)