Monday, July 30, 2007

family leave and litigation

Jobs - Labor - Discrimination - Family and Child Care - Courts and Decisions - Lawsuits - New York Times

this is a pretty good article outlining several legal fronts on the war against working families.
(notice i didn't just frame this as a mommy issue - it's a family issue.)

what i notice is how enduring our culture's stereotypes and assumptions are about who should be caregiver, who must be breadwinner and how faithful our workplaces are in upholding really simplistic gender roles. (again, patriarchy.)

an example from the article:
Knussman is a churchgoing Christian and a conservative Republican. In 1999, he
also became the first person to prevail in a sex-discrimination lawsuit filed
under the Family and Medical Leave Act. A jury awarded him $375,000 in damages,
although a judge subsequently reduced the amount to $40,000. The suit was filed
shortly after his wife, Kimberly, became pregnant and began to suffer from an
array of medical complications, including pre-eclampsia, a potentially
life-threatening condition. Wishing to be there to support her, Knussman wrote
to his boss at the Maryland State Police to request four to eight weeks of
leave, to which he was entitled under the F.M.L.A. He was told there was “no
way” he could take more than two weeks. Later, after his wife gave birth to a
baby girl, he asked for 30 days off, as is available to primary caregivers under
Maryland law. A personnel manager for the state police, where he had worked for
17 years, denied the request, telling him, “Unless your wife is in a coma or
dead, you can’t be primary care provider.” The same person also told him that
God made women to have babies.
[emphasis mine]

incredible, isn't it? although the leave was available to him by law, his gender was the factor that made his employer deny his claim. 'there's no way fathers can by primary caregivers.' that's called a gender stereotype.

the lawsuits filed by working mothers and fathers, however, are showing how more families are resisting the untenable position of having to choose between their families and their paychecks. they also show how our workplaces and our society at large has failed in adjusting to the needs of the american worker. the office and the home no longer exist as separate islands, linked only by our travel to and from work; the office and the home are now connected to one another and are affected by one another.

what's even more disturbing is how workplaces are becoming even more hostile toward the working mother. i'll say what i will about having babies (ick) but in the workplace, this kind of discrimination is illegal:
Correll and other researchers asked volunteers to evaluate a pool of equally qualified male and female job applicants. On some résumés, a clue signaled that the applicant was a parent. Correll also sent 1,276 résumés for entry-level and midlevel marketing jobs to 638 real employers.
The results, as reported in the May 2007 issue of The American Journal of Sociology, are
striking. Among the volunteers, mothers were consistently viewed as less competent and less committed and were held to higher performance and punctuality standards. They were 79 percent less likely to be hired and, if hired, would be offered a starting salary $11,000 lower than nonmothers. Fathers, by contrast, were offered the highest salaries of all. Meanwhile, in the test run with real-world employers, the hypothetical female applicants without children were more than twice as likely as equally qualified mothers to be called back for interviews. Correll’s findings echo a discovery made by the psychologist Amy Cuddy. Cuddy asked volunteers to evaluate four imaginary professionals: a childless female, a childless male, a mother and a father. All these professionals had identical experience and educational backgrounds. Yet the mothers were given the lowest competency ratings, by both male and female evaluators, and were least likely to be recommended for hiring and promotions.

the message is clear: mothers are bad and fathers are good - except when fathers want to do the mothering. single women? we're given the possibility of economic reward but only until we become mothers. sucks, doesn't it? the game seems to be fixed.

in fact, the game seems to be sexist.

(the Center for WorkLife Law can be found here.)
this is my last week at the office, incidentally. next month is my surgery/recovery period and i'm anxious about how this long a leave will affect my work life. thankfully, since i work for a feminist organization, there is some comfort in knowing my leave has been approved; but others aren't so lucky.

i hear that parenting is a 'choice.' really? or is parenting something that's coerced from us (then punished, if you're a mother)? our tax structure certainly rewards childbearing; it makes it attractive and rewards it. seems rather coercive to me (and i've yet to see any tax breaks come my way for not having kids.) but at the same time our economy seems to privilege those with kids, there's this other aspect of punishing those with families; it's like our society is totally schizophrenic. we love families and we can't wait to punish them for existing.

the 'choices' some of us take for granted are determined by class and fortune. they're also determined by stereotype and deeply held 'traditions' that serve to, once again, keep a particular power structure in place. (fathers are inherently worth more than mothers? what's that math??)


Natalie said...

Thanks for posting this. I used to work with low-income new parents and definitely saw some of the clashes between work and family--with both mom AND dad.

Wasp Jerky said...

It's so interesting (or maybe heartbreaking and disturbing) that the family values crowd is only pro-family when it fits their preconceived ideas about gender roles, capitalism, and so on. Contrast that with the European heathens who give working mothers tons of paid leave, who give several weeks of vacation to virtually all employees, who have universal health care, who have shorter work weeks, and so on.

ding said...

the contradictions in the modern church are many.
if christianity is supposed to be countercultural, it's remarkable how much we hew to the culture's biggest tenets.