Thursday, March 26, 2009

Working Mothers: Rejoice

The First Circuit emphatically supported working mothers today in Chadwick v. Wellpoint, Inc., No. 08-1685. The plaintiff was passed over for promotion and she sued her employer. The trial court dismissed her suit even though she alleged that when her boss explained why she hadn't gotten the promotion, she said "It's nothing you did or didn't do. It was just that you're going to school, you have the kids* and you just have a lot on your plate right now."

The First Circuit reversed, and Judge Stahl was quite clear as to why the Court ruled as it did. And he found the point important enough that he repeated it over and over:
  • On pp. 9-10: "[T]he assumption that a woman will perform her job less well due to her presumed family obligations is a form of sex-stereotyping and that adverse job actions on that basis constitute sex discrimination."
  • On p. 11: "[U]nlawful sex discrimination occurs when an employer takes an adverse job action on the assumption that a woman, because she is a woman, will neglect her job responsibilities in favor of her presumed childcare responsibilities."
  • On p. 11: "[A]n employer is not free to assume that a woman, because she is a woman, will necessarily be a poor worker because of family responsibilities."
It's honestly a little bit surprising that the defendants moved for summary judgment on this record. Though I suppose they can take some cosmic solace in the fact that there was at least one judge out there who thought they should win without a trial.

*The plaintiff has four of them, including triplets. After learning about the triplets, one of her superiors e-mailed her and said "Bless you." Here's what the First Circuit made of that (footnote 10): "The district court erred by concluding that the 'Bless you' comment was was conclusively a 'friendly exclamation.' This is a factual conclusion that a judge at summary judgment is not free to make."


Anonymous said...

I wonder what all the people who said Sarah Palin was a bad person for seeking the vice presidency while raising young children would think. Interesting feature of this case: all three supervisors involved, and the primary decisionmaker, were women. It is good that the law is applied evenhandedly (it should not be the case that three women supervisors can get summary judgment, but three men supervisors can't), but it is curious that three women can be found to have engaged in gender discrimination based on stereotypes about women. I guess that's for the jury to decide. I don't like the plaintiff's chances at trial.

Terry Klein said...

For the jury to decide, indeed. I wonder what they'll think about the supervisor changing her story at her deposition. Prepping her for cross will be fun. Thank you for reminding me of Sarah Palin. Perhaps you will run into her at a tea party?