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Posted on Monday, September 10, 2012

Are Child Care Duties Protected Under Federal Workplace Laws?

A recent case from the Alexandria, Virginia Federal Court addressed the issue of whether an employee’s child care responsibilities were protected under federal discrimination laws.  A male pharmaceutical sales rep was supposed to start work each day at 8:00 a.m.  Under an arrangement he had with his working wife, however, he needed to drop his child off at school at 8:30 a.m. four days a week, and therefore he could not start work on those days until roughly 9:00 a.m.  His supervisor told him that this later start time was not acceptable, and asked why his wife could not drop their child off at school instead.  The male rep was not the only employee who had kids, but he was the only male rep whose wife also worked outside the home.

The rep complained to Human Resources that he was being singled out because of his family responsibilities, and that the supervisor’s comments were based on a stereotype that “it’s the wife’s job” to do things such as taking the kids to school.  He eventually sued the company for gender discrimination.

A federal judge in Alexandria recently dismissed the employee’s case prior to trial, after concluding that the company’s 8:00 a.m. start time policy was applied uniformly to all employees, regardless of gender and regardless of whether an employee had children or not.  The court pointed out that federal discrimination laws do not protect against discrimination  that is based on caregiver responsibilities.  The court added that it would be a violation of federal discrimination laws if the company had treated mothers differently than fathers in terms of scheduling.

Had the company been in the District of Columbia however, the result may have been different as D.C. is one of two states (Alaska being the other) that explicitly outlaws discrimination in the workplace based on family responsibilities.

Declan Leonard is managing partner of the Washington, DC regional business law firm Berenzweig Leonard, LLP. He can be reached at DLeonard@BerenzweigLaw.com.

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