Via Point of Law I learned of a increasingly apparent theory of workplace discrimination--Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD). As explained in this article from the American Prospect Online Edition, claims based upon this theory are not based upon one specific federal statute:
Although there is no federal statute for FRD, lawyers tend to cobble together existing ones, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, when filing lawsuits. Employees have also successfully sued on claims of wrongful discharge, breach of contract, and infliction of emotional stress. Mothers, who now know their rights because of the internet and increased media coverage, are filing most cases, many of which are filed under Title VII, which prohibits sex discrimination.
Successful cases establish that employees -- both men and women -- are penalized not because of their gender, but because of their gender role.
It is hoped that FRD lawsuits will make a difference in the structure of the workplace. From the article:
FRD claims might help expand part-time work opportunities, as well as challenge inflexible work hours and constraints on working from home. But she concedes that the way an organization is run is so deeply entrenched, it can be hard for those involved to think the demands of a business can be met efficiently any other way. Until managers in the workplace can move beyond that way of thinking, the "ideal worker" will thrive at the expense of everyone else.
It would be wonderful if this theory proved correct, but I'm somewhat skeptical. Lawsuits can accomplish many things, but in my opinion changing the behavior and the underlying stereotypes that motivate behavior is a difficult feat indeed, and lawsuits are not necessarily the best way to do to go about it. That being said, lawsuits can change the way an entire industry does business, as is evident from the changes that have occurred in the large accounting firms as a result of a high profile gender discrimination lawsuits.
As I've said in the past, I believe that the generational divide will be the true impetus for change. Generation X and Y employees have far different values than the Baby Boomers and as the workforce becomes populated with more and more Generation X and Y employees, their values will become the norm. And,their collective refusal to work ridiculous hours will become increasingly evident as they abandon high paying jobs requiring inhumane hours for jobs that offer a better work-life balance, albeit at lower pay rate.
Only time will tell if I'm correct. And, in the meantime, we have the FRD lawsuits that may not change the way those currently at the top of the food chain think, it may have some effect upon their outward behavior. And, I suppose that's better than nothing.