Judge Says Companies Can Demand Employees Put Work Before Family

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In a recent court ruling in favor of the financial media firm Bloomberg LP, New York Judge Loretta Preska said the "the law does not mandate work-life balance." The case had been brought by the U.S. Government on behalf of 65 women who said the company had discriminated against them in pay and promotions after they took maternity leaves.

Judge Preska ruled against the women, saying there was no evidence of any systematic discrimination at the company. In her 64 page opinion, Judge Preska admitted that women who ask for flexibility in their schedules were, "likely at a disadvantage in a demanding culture like Bloomberg's," but, the Judge said, that was also true for men who asked for schedule flexibility. "In the free-market system we embrace," wrote Judge Preska, "if you make choices that preference your family over your work, that has consequences in a company like Bloomberg," which explicitly expects all-out dedication.

Here & Now received several comments on this subject. One listener, James, says:

"Specifically just talking about companies, yes I think they should be allowed to say up-front their expectations for employees, their work hours, availability during off-hours, etc. and employees are allowed to refuse to accept those terms. As long as we are capitalists in a (mostly) capitalist world, forcing companies to make such sacrifices themselves would be suicidal.

However, on the societal level, we absolutely need to encourage healthy family structure and parenting. The problem is putting all the cost on the companies - if we collectively value maternity leave (and we should), we should bear the cost as a society - through taxes that fund such leaves (probably sharing the cost with companies, to be practical)."

John McDonald says employees should not be discriminated against for taking advantage of a benefit.

"The subtle question not addressed by the Judge is whether a benefit offered and granted to employees can be taken without fear of being discriminated against because the employee elects to use the benefit.

Would the answer given by the Judge be the same if an employee is denied a promotion because he or she has used sick leave? I know of cases where employers annually grant 15 days of sick leave and 10 additional of annual leave per year, in addition to funeral and FMLA leave, but the employees are subject to termination if they are not in attendance at work on 97% of the working days in a year.

I detect a certain sense of naivete in the Judge who issued this ruling. She seems to believe that employer conduct is not nuanced or subtle and mostly honest and forthright when it comes to reasonable enforcement of its workforce policies of nondiscrimination.

If this ruling is upheld, I fear 2 results will materialize: facilitation of employer-created pretexts to deny hiring and promotion of certain workers especially older workers and parents and a fortification of an already cynical belief by employees that enforcement of civil rights and other workplace laws operate as a shield for employers who may only have to devise a written policy to show an employer's adherence to the laws."

One young woman, ElizabethD, says she's chosen not to have kids.

"Thank God there is a judge that will go out on a limb and tell the truth! If it is your choice to want to have a bunch of kids and be a mom, you can not be a full-time mom AND a full-time career woman. One or the other will have to suffer. I am in college, because I know I want a full-time career, therefore my "home life" will suffer. That is why I made the conscious decision not to be a mother and that is my choice. If these woman want to work at Bloomberg’s and then because they want a family, one path will suffer. It is really simple logic, here. I think that there are too many people having children and not thinking on the consequences of all those children. Does anyone realize that Texas is in a major drought and just some years ago a town in Tennessee ran out of water and California and Florida have these water limits? We seriously need to think before acting!"

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This segment aired on September 22, 2011.


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