Employees who have family caregiving responsibilities would become the latest protected class under a bill introduced by State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and co-sponsored by the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings.
SB 404 would add familial status to the 16 categories already protected under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. “This bill defends people who act on family values, those caring for children, the elderly and disabled family members,” said Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law, in her testimony before the state Senate Judiciary Committee April 2, 2013. “This bill simply requires employers to treat caregivers the same way they treat other employees.”
Derek Tisinger, a retired Bakersfield fire captain, testified that he was penalized for shift swaps he used to care for his three sons, for whom he had sole custody—even though other employees swapped shifts for numerous reasons, including golf games. When Tisinger failed to receive a promotion, he sued the city of Bakersfield, claiming he was passed over because he was a single father.
A jury found in his favor, but he lost his case on appeal. While the appellate court found there was “sufficient evidence from which a jury could infer Tisinger was passed over because of his childcare responsibilities,” there was no evidence it was because of his status as a single dad. Tisinger said this bill would close the loophole that cost him his case.
The bill is meant to curb what is known as “family responsibilities discrimination,” or FRD. Also known as caregiver discrimination, it can affect pregnant women, parents , and those with ill partners, spouses, or aging parents. Employees are sometimes rejected for hire, passed over for promotions, or otherwise harassed based on stereotypical notions of how they will or should act given their family responsibilities. Some 70% of U.S. families with children have both parents in the labor force.
“Recent studies suggest that men who show on the job they have child care responsibilities report the highest levels of harassment directed at men. They are seen as more feminine, as not ‘real men’,” Williams told lawmakers.
Employers will often let employees change shifts for school or a second job, but rarely for child care, Williams noted. “This bill does not ask for special treatment. It just asks for equal treatment for mothers and others doing what we would expect any responsible family member to do.”
Williams cited a 2009 case out of Fresno, Maher v. Fresno, in which a female recruit was told “straight out” she could not be successful in the firefighting academy as a single mother. “All this bill does it requires employers to treat employees with family responsibilities the same as those without,” Williams said.
The San Francisco Chronicle published an editorial supporting the legislation. The California Chamber of Commerce has come out against the bill. "This bill does not ask that these employees be given any special treatment. It simply asks that they be treated fairly, without bias or prejudice," said Sen. Jackson. "Ultimately, we hope that employers will recognize that this is good for the workplace and the bottom line."