More than 70 percent of American children are raised by a working single parent or by two parents who both work. Yet parental discrimination in the workplace remains prevalent and often even implicitly accepted, largely because there is no federal law prohibiting it.
A Chicago woman named Dena Lockwood has taken an important step toward solidifying anti-parental discrimination laws. When she was fired from her sales position with the Professional Neurological Services because she had to take a day off to care for her sick four-year-old, Lockwood first found herself terrified. She had no idea how she’d balance a new mortgage, student loans, and childcare for her two kids.
But after considering the systematic discrimination she’d faced because she was a parent (“Will having kids prevent you from working 70 hours a week?” her sales manager demanded upon hiring her), Lockwood decided to hold the company accountable. But instead of going the traditional lawsuit route, she turned to a low-profile but highly powerful government agency known as the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.
The Commission, which enforces Chicago’s anti-discrimination policies, is normally “seen as a place of last resort because cases are not tried in front of a jury and lawyers assume awards might be smaller than outcomes in state and federal courts.” But Lockwood and her lawyer decided the commission needed to be apprised of the blatant discrimination Lockwood had faced. The rewards for their courage were resounding: Lockwood was awarded $213,000, while her attorneys were awarded $87,000.
Unlike race or gender discrimination, there is no federal law that protects parents and caregivers from workplace discrimination, such as Lockwood faced when she was offered a lower commission than her non-parent counterparts.
According to The Chicago Tribune, “no statute specifically prohibits discrimination against those with family responsibilities, which can include caring for spouse and aging parents. That has not stopped creative lawyers from filing lawsuits under existing workplace anti-bias laws, and they are doing so with increasing frequency.”
Lawsuits are an important way to hold employers accountable, but fundamental change in employer policies will only come about once parental discrimination is viewed in the same light as gender or race bias. Lockwood’s victory–the first parental discrimination case to ever come before the commission board for a ruling–is an important step in the right direction.
Photo: The Chicago Tribune