This article analyzes how the growing trend of litigation alleging employment discrimination based on workers' family caregiving responsibilities applies to law firms and other legal employers. Our research has found at least thirty-three cases since 1990 in which employees of law firms or other legal employers--both attorneys and support staff--have sued their employers for family responsibilities discrimination (“FRD”). FRD is discrimination against employees based on their family caregiving responsibilities for newborns, young children, elderly parents, or ill spouses or partners. Here we analyze these cases, including the employee experiences that have prompted litigation and the legal theories on which the lawsuits are based. We conclude with strategies designed to help law firms respond proactively to the potential risks posed by FRD.
Our research indicates that family responsibilities discrimination has become a risk management issue for all employers. For a variety of reasons discussed in this article--most notably, the structure and culture of law firms that has been based on traditionally masculine norms and life patterns--legal employers may be particularly susceptible to FRD liability.
Joan C. Williams, Stephanie Bornstein, Diane Reddy & Betsy A. Williams, Law Firms as Defendants: Family Responsibilities Discrimination in Legal Workplaces, 34 Pepp. L. Rev. 393 (2007), available at http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/620