Monday, September 15, 2008

Predictions on Bias Cases as Economy Worsens

Graph_downRecently, both Paul and I have reported on employment discrimination filings and the economy. There have been more developments on this front. Via Paul and last Friday's BNA Daily Labor Report (subscription required), comes a report about a panel at the ABA's Section of Labor and Employment Law's annual CLE conference in Denver last week. The panel, held Thursday, was entitled "The Top Ten Issues in Employment Discrimination Law." From the BNA report,

The combination of an aging workforce and a likely increase in layoffs due to the down economy will result in more employment discrimination lawsuits, panelists at a labor and employment law conference in Denver say.

"Jobs are getting reduced, and we have an aging workforce, so it could result in a lot of litigation," according to attorney Kathleen Phair Barnard. Many of the cases will center on the intersection between age discrimination and disability discrimination, she says. Barnard adds that if legislation to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act passes, "we're going to have more folks covered, and these kinds of claims are going to be increasing even more."

And based on recent unemployment figures, I'll predict that gender discrimination claims are going to start rising. According to a recent report of the Joint Economic Committee of the Senate and House, "Equality in Job Loss," the current downturn threatens women’s employment more than ever before. The 2001 recession was the first in decades during which women not only lost jobs, but also did not see their employment rates recover to their pre-recession peak. From the press release,

Analyzing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the JEC report . . . finds the following:
• When women lose jobs, families lose a large share of their income and experience greater economic volatility.
• In recessions prior to 2001, women could buffer family incomes against male unemployment because they did not experience sharp job losses. However, this changed in the 2001 recession as women lost jobs on par with men in the industries that lost the most jobs. In the 2001 recession, compared to men, women lost a larger share of jobs in manufacturing and trade, transportation and utilities. In the other high-job-loss industries, women lost about the same share of jobs as men.
• The lackluster recovery of the 2000s made it difficult for women to regain their jobs – women’s employment rates never returned to their pre-recession peak. Especially striking is that as of 2008, the female employment rate is about six percentage points below where it would have been had women’s employment stayed on its trend line from 1948-2000.
• Over the past three decades, only those families who have a working wife have seen real increases in family income. Families with a non-working wife have income today that is about the same as it had been in 1973, adjusting for inflation.

Some of the conclusions that the report makes assume that women's wages are supplemental to male wages. But it does recognize that families with female breadwinners are especially vulnerable

Wives typically bring home more than a third of their family’s income and single mothers are sole breadwinners. The report finds that families are more economically vulnerable as wives are no longer insulating families from economic hardship in times of higher unemployment and falling or stagnant real wages. Single-mother families are now especially vulnerable.

Much of the disparity in job loss has been caused by job segregation by gender; the report also notes that there is no evidence that women are opting out of the workplace for full-time motherhood. Overall, it's bad news for those not viewed as "authentic workers" -- in other words, not viewed as fit, young, male workers who can put work first and the rest of life, second, a presumption that doesn't do anybody any good.

MM

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