U.S. Court Bars Sex Bias Claim by Maine Mom Denied Promotion

May 8, 2008

A federal court has blocked a Maine woman from suing her employer for sex discrimination after she claimed she was denied a promotion because of her childcare responsibilities for her four children including 6-year old triplets.

Laurie Chadwick complained that Wellpoint, Inc. gave a promotion to another less qualified female employee who had two children of her own.

According to the court, in explaining the promotion denial, the Wellpoint decision maker told Chadwick “you’re going to school, you have the kids, and you just have a lot on your plate right now,” and that she and other supervisors would feel “overwhelmed” in the same circumstances.

U.S. District Court Justice David Brock Hornby ruled against Chadwick, finding she had no evidence that the decision was gender-based and thus possibly covered under federal sex discrimination statutes.

“Federal law affords no protection against discrimination if it is based solely upon young children or the number of young children. The plaintiff can prevail only if she can show that her employer used sex-based stereotyping about a mother’s child-raising obligations for very young children—as contrasted with the child-raising obligations of males with very young children—to deny her this promotion,” Hornby wrote.

He said Chadwick presented no evidence of preferential treatment of similarly situated males, nor of other remarks that show stereotyped assumptions about females’ parenting obligations as contrasted with males’.

Hornby said that the reference —”you’re going to school, you have the kids, and you just have a lot on your plate right now” — as a reason for denying the promotion reflects discrimination against a caregiver. But he rejected the claim that it was discrimination based upon sex.

“We know that there are stereotypes in our culture about male/female roles, and it is tempting to conclude that they inform and affect everyone’s behavior, including [the] decision here with its reference to children, and so it is tempting to say, ‘Of course it was because the plaintiff was the mother!’, ” Hornby wrote.

But Chadwick was unable to show any basis to support the inference that female role stereotyping actually lay behind Wellpoint’s decision to promote the other woman, beyond the assumption that the reference to “kids” invoked a female’s role.

The court granted summary judgment for the employer.

The case is Laurie Chadwick v. Wellpoint, Inc. and Anthem Health Plans of Maine, Inc., Civil No.. 07-70-P-H

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