"Family Responsibility" Discrimination

Larry Elder
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Posted: Jun 07, 2007 12:00 AM
"Family Responsibility" Discrimination

So, here's the drill.

First, the Feds pass a law mandating unpaid family and medical leave. Second, many states up the ante by passing laws requiring employers to pay employees to take such time off.

Now comes California with one better. Passing a proposal along party lines -- Democrats in favor and Republicans against -- the California State Senate seeks to prevent employers from refusing raises and promotions to employees with caregiving responsibilities that take time away from their work.

That's right. If family responsibilities cause you to leave work or work under a modified schedule, your employer cannot "punish" you by denying you a raise or promotion!?

A law professor who directs the Center for WorkLife Law, a research and advocacy center at San Francisco's UC Hastings law school, said, "This issue is bubbling up all over. There's a whole generation of women who take for granted that they should be entitled to have careers that they want and that they shouldn't be penalized for living up to very widely held ideals of motherhood."

Hey, conservatives say they want "family values," but dastardly employers contradict this by expecting employees to show up on time and put in the work. And, if one spends less time at work or requires odd hours, he or she loses out to another worker without outside family responsibilities. It just ain't fair.

Proponents of the law, of course, say that many of the people hurt by family responsibility discrimination are -- all together now -- people of color. So, expecting people to show up and do their work, while promoting the most productive workers, is . . . racist (and sexist, of course!).

The Bakersfield, Calif., fire department, a few years ago, denied a promotion to a male firefighter because his boss said he took too many sick days and traded shifts to juggle the responsibilities of his job and his role as primary caregiver to his three kids. His boss, in the firefighter's evaluation, said, "I encourage [him] to continue to explore alternative methods of providing child care" to allow him to "work as much as possible with his assigned crew." It was not good enough that his boss recognized the firefighter's familial responsibilities, kept him on, continued to pay him, while suggesting he do his best to show up on time with his crew. Why, Kunta Kinte had it better.

The firefighter sued, and the jury awarded him $75,000, yet the Court of Appeals threw it out. But all of this occurred before the proposed law. With this new law adding "familial status" to the ever-growing laundry list -- currently including disability, national origin, marital status, age and sexual orientation -- that the State of California prevents employers from discriminating against, such a firefighter could sue and win. (San Francisco and Santa Cruz also prohibit employers from discriminating against height and weight, and Washington, D.C., bans discrimination based on appearance.) Why not cut to the chase and simply pass a law that says that a worker need not show up, yet remains eligible for raises and promotions?

A private employer -- and this law applies to both the public and private sector -- must make profits. Companies make profits by providing goods and services that please consumers. An employer hires an employee who adds value to the enterprise. An employee who makes demands on the business by expecting the business to accommodate him or her sort of defeats the whole purpose. How dare private sector employers expect employees to show up, perform, produce and, in turn, make profits?

Liberal former Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., left the Senate after 18 years, and a few years later bought an inn in Stratford, Conn. -- his first venture into the business world. He soon discovered, however, that state and federal laws imposed onerous mandates and conditions that made it difficult to profitably operate a business. The inn went under, and the beleaguered and forlorn McGovern wrote:

"(I) wish I had known more firsthand about the concerns and problems of American businesspeople while I was a U.S. senator and later a presidential nominee. That knowledge would have made me a better legislator and a more worthy aspirant to the White House. . . . I learned first of all that over the past 20 years America has become the most litigious society in the world. . . . The second lesson I learned by owning the Stratford Inn is that legislators and government regulators must more carefully consider the economic and management burdens we have been imposing on U.S. businesses. . . . Many businesses, especially small independents such as the Stratford Inn, simply can't pass such costs on to their customers and remain competitive or profitable."

Well, it could've been worse. He could've started a business in California.