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Emerging Category of Discrimination – Caregivers

On May 23, 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) issued guidance on the treatment of employees with “caregiver responsibilities.” While the federal discrimination statutes do not directly prohibit discrimination against “caregivers,” the new EEOC guidance does note that discrimination against caregivers that is grounded in a federally protected class, such as sex or disability, can be used as a basis for such a claim. “Family Responsibility Discrimination” as the theory is becoming known, is gaining popularity.  School Districts are not immune from such claims. Generally speaking, a caregiver is one who provides daily care for a child, elderly or disabled family member. Typically the caregiver is a female. Of course, however, such claims are not limited just to women. Such claims have typically arisen in the following situations:

·     Denying a woman an assignment or promotion based on the belief that she may not want to work the extra hours or to relocate.

·     Disciplining a caregiver for absenteeism disproportionately to an individual without caregiving responsibilities.

·     Failure to hire based upon stereotypical assumptions about external demands.

·     Denying a leave of absence or intermittent leave to deal with an ill or disabled family member.

·     Failing to hire a single mother (or father).

·     Subjecting a woman to a hostile environment because she is a parent with a young child or cares for a family member with a disability.

School Districts should be aware of the possibility of such claims as they discipline employees for absenteeism and/or consider personnel for promotion. As with all forms of discrimination, proper training and consecutive levels of evaluation are important first steps in minimizing the risk of such claims. Given the publicity surrounding the EEOC guidance, it is likely we will see a continued increase in the number of such claims.