Employment discrimination is present on many levels within the work environment, specifically due to race, color, religion, national origin and gender. However, legislation such as Title VII–the portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which protects an individual from employment discrimination based upon those factors–was enacted to prevent such unfair practices that were once highly visible in our society. Though Title VII only applies to an employer with 15 or more employees in both the public and private sector including federal, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions and training programs; if you are a working mother, it is imperative to be familiar with your rights as an employee under this Act.
Title VII seeks to limit unlawful employment practices by prohibiting employers from hiring, refusing to hire, firing or laying off an individual due to his/her race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It also makes it illegal to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms and conditions, or privileges of employment, due to race, color, religion, sex or national origin as well.
Unlawful employment acts may affect working mothers as it relates to gender differences if any company’s discriminatory practices are “deliberate and intentional,” or “disproportionately exclude” individuals on the basis of gender. This also includes discrimination based upon stereotypes as well as assumptions regarding the abilities, traits or the performance of an individual on the basis of sex.
How does this affect the working mother, and most important, how can accusations of discrimination be proven?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Intentional sex discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities can be proven using any of the types of evidence used in other sex discrimination cases. It is essential that there be evidence that the adverse action taken against the caregiver was based on sex.”
Relevant evidence in charges alleging disparate treatment of female caregivers may include, but is not limited to, any of the following:
• Whether the respondent asked female applicants, but not male applicants, whether they were married or had young children, or about their childcare and other caregiving responsibilities;
• Whether decision makers or other officials made stereotypical or derogatory comments about pregnant workers or about working mothers or other female caregivers;
• Whether the respondent began subjecting the charging party or other women to less favorable treatment soon after it became aware that they were pregnant;
• Whether, despite the absence of a decline in work performance, the respondent began subjecting the charging party or other women to less favorable treatment after they assumed caregiving responsibilities;
• Whether female workers without children or other caregiving responsibilities received more favorable treatment than female caregivers based upon stereotypes of mothers or other female caregivers;
• Whether the respondent steered or assigned women with caregiving responsibilities to less prestigious or lower-paid positions;
• Whether male workers with caregiving responsibilities received more favorable treatment than female workers;
• Whether statistical evidence shows disparate treatment against pregnant workers or female caregivers;
• Whether respondent deviated from workplace policy when it took the challenged action;
• Whether the respondent’s asserted reason for the challenged action is credible.
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While Title VII does not mandate work-life balance, it does protect pregnant women, new mothers and working mothers from illegal discrimination on the job. Many cases fall through the cracks for numerous reasons, however, if you suspect you have been discriminated against based upon your documented relevant evidence, it is wise to voice your concerns to your human resources department as well as speak with a Labor and Employment Attorney to discuss any options you may have.
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Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row, KinderJam, LLC and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.
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