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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Can A Woman Be Denied A Promotion Because She Is A Working Mother With Young Children?

Upset sad businesswoman sitting at her working place

Having litigated sex discrimination cases in Florida state and federal courts for nearly twenty years, our Marion County, Florida employment discrimination attorneys have learned that employers continue to make employment decisions based on gender stereotypes. The prohibition of discrimination because of sex in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) bars gender discrimination, including discrimination based on gender stereotypes. Thus, Title VII prohibits employers from basing employment decisions on gender stereotypes. For example, employers cannot make employment decisions based on stereotypical views about women’s commitment to work and their value as employees, such as women cannot manage work and family responsibilities or women with children will be less committed to the job. The alleged facts in Chadwick v. WellPoint, Inc., 561 F.3d 38 (1st Cir. 2009) are instructive in showing when an employment decision is impermissibly based on a gender stereotype.

Long-Term Employee Denied Promotion

In that case, Laurie Chadwick (Chadwick) brought a sex discrimination lawsuit against her employer, WellPoint, Inc. (WellPoint), under Title VII after she was denied a promotion. Chadwick alleged that WellPoint failed to promote her because of a gender-based stereotype that women who are mothers, particularly of young children, neglect their jobs in favor of their presumed childcare responsibilities.

Chadwick was a long-term employee of WellPoint, an insurance company, at its office in Maine. She was hired by WellPoint in 1997 and was promoted in 1999 to the position of Recovery Specialist II. In 2006, encouraged by her supervisor, Chadwick applied for a promotion to a management position of Team Lead. Because she was already performing several of the responsibilities of the Team Lead position and based on her supervisor’s encouragement, Chadwick believed that she was the forerunner for the position. Chadwick did not get the promotion.

At the time of the promotion decision, Chadwick was the mother of an eleven-year old son and six-year old triplets in kindergarten. There was no evidence that Chadwick’s work performance was negatively impacted by any childcare responsibilities. In support of her assertion that WellPoint denied her promotion based on the gender-based stereotype that mothers, particularly those with young children, neglect their work duties in favor of their childcare obligations, Chadwick pointed to a remark made by the person, Miller, who made the promotion decision. When Miller informed Chadwick that she did not get the promotion, Miller explained: “It was nothing that 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.” During the litigation, Miller testified that Chadwick was denied the promotion because she interviewed poorly.

Gender Stereotypes Are Unlawful Discrimination

The trial court dismissed Chadwick’s discriminatory failure to promote claim. In doing so, the trial court reasoned that Chadwick failed to prove that the failure to promote her was based on her sex because “Miller did not explicitly say that Chadwick’s sex was the basis for her assumption that Chadwick would not be able to handle the demands of work and home.” In other words, the trial court required evidence that Miller explicitly said that she though Chadwick would be overwhelmed because she is a woman with kids, rather than, as Miller actually said, “you have kids.” On appeal, the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Chadwick’s discriminatory failure to promote claim.

In reversing the trial court, the First Circuit explained that gender-based stereotyping is “an impermissible form of discrimination” under Title VII. In applying this principle, the appellate court pointed out, courts have ruled that employment decisions based “on the assumption that a woman will perform her job less well due to her presumed family obligations is a form of [gender]-based stereotyping” that constitutes sex discrimination. In other words, “unlawful 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 child care responsibilities.” Thus, “an employer is not free to assume that a woman, because she is a woman, will necessarily be a poor worker because of family responsibilities.”

Passed Over Because Of Gender-Based Stereotypes

Because employment discrimination claimants are “entitled to prove a discrimination case by circumstantial evidence alone,” the First Circuit rejected the trial court’s requirement that Miller had to explicitly stated that “Chadwick’s sex was the basis for Miller’s assumption about Chadwick’s inability to balance work and home.” “To require such an explicit reference,” the court of appeals explained, “would make it exceedingly difficult to prove most sex discrimination cases today.” “Given what we know about societal stereotypes regarding working women with children,” the appellate court reasoned, a reasonable jury could find that Chadwick was not denied the promotion because of her interview performance, but “because Miller assumed that as a woman with four young children, Chadwick would not give her all to her job.” Thus, the First Circuit concluded, Chadwick had presented sufficient evidence to establish that she “was really passed over because of [gender]-based stereotypes” and was entitled to proceed to trial.

Free Consultation With Ocala Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have extensive experience litigating gender discrimination cases in federal and state court. If you have questions about gender discrimination or about being denied a promotion because of your gender discrimination, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Marion County, Florida discrimination attorneys. Our employee rights law firm takes discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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