Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2012


With limited financial resources, few social supports, and high family caregiving demands, low-wage workers go off to work each day to jobs that offer low pay, few days off, and little flexibility or schedule stability. It should come as no surprise, then, that workers' family lives conflict with their jobs. What is surprising is the response at work when they do. This Article provides a survey of lawsuits brought by low-wage workers against their employers when they were unfairly penalized at work because of their caregiving responsibilities at home. The Article reflects a review of cases brought by low-wage hourly workers, using fifty such cases to illustrate trends in caregiver discrimination against the working poor. For the past two decades, both the academic literature and the popular press on work-family conflict have focused nearly exclusively on professional and middle-wage women, with little discussion of how work-family conflict affects the poorest families. During the same time period, much of the welfare-to-work debate has focused on “fixing” the worker--improving workplace readiness to get mothers off of welfare and into jobs--with little focus on how the rigid and unstable structure of many low-wage jobs undercuts workers' ability to access economic stability. This Article aims to shift the focus in two ways: first, from work-family conflict as an issue of professional women struggling to achieve “balance” to an issue of economic insecurity, and even discrimination, for working families; second, from a focus on whether welfare-to-work mothers can get jobs to whether they can keep them. The Article provides concrete examples of how low-wage job structures fail to account for the reality of low-wage workers' family lives, with detrimental results--including caregiver discrimination lawsuits-- for employees and employers alike.