Unlawful Discrimination Faced by Working Mothers

One of the hardest struggles faced by parents today is finding the perfect balance between working and raising children.  Over the last century, women have entered the workforce at record breaking rates. As a result, the rapid engagement of mothers in the labor force has not only contributed to the country’s efficiency and economic growth but has also presented new challenges for employers and working women.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex. This includes protection against sex-based discrimination for workers with caregiving responsibilities, such as working mothers. Despite a progressive shift in the workforce, women are still impacted by discriminatory practices that disproportionately affect working mothers.

Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on parental or caregiver status. As a result, an employer does not violate Title VII if it treats working mothers and working fathers differently than childless workers. However, an employer will be found to have violated Title VII if working mothers are subjected to disparate treatment that working fathers are not.

Although women typically assume a majority of the parental responsibilities in most families, Title VII does not allow employers to operate on the belief that a female worker is less dependable than a male employee.  Unfortunately, working mothers are often forced to combat negative stereotypes as some employers hold outdated beliefs that caregiving mothers are unable to demonstrate the necessary devotion to their jobs and adequately care for their children. Often, women are not hired or are denied promotions because it is believed that mothers, particularly of young children, would neglect their jobs in favor of their presumed childcare responsibilities. As a result, discrimination against working mothers can take the form of women not being hired, biased treatment in the workplace, a lack of training opportunities, unequal pay, the denial of promotions or interviews, or being recommended for lower salaried positions.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), relevant evidence in charges alleging disparate treatment of female caregivers may include:

  • Whether a potential employer asked female applicants, but not male applicants, if they were marred, had young children, or about their childcare arrangements;
  • Whether stereotypical comments were made about working mothers or pregnant employees;
  • Whether an employer assigned a working or pregnant mother to a less prestigious or lower paid position;
  • Whether there were changes in an employer’s assessment of a female employee’s performance after it was discovered that she had children or was expecting;
  • Whether statistical evidence displayed clear disparate treatment against pregnant employees or working mothers.

Despite the legal protections afforded to women under Title VII, sex discrimination persists. Discrimination against working mothers is both unethical and illegal.  Therefore, it is important for women who believe they have been subjected to sex discrimination to be aware of their rights and seek legal assistance if necessary. It is also important for employers to be aware of the implicit biases that can lead to discriminatory employment decisions.

Employers and employees should consult experienced legal counsel to be fully advised of their rights and obligations under the law. If you or a close friend or family member needs assistance in this area, consult the Employment Team at the Finney Law Firm.