Although the District of Columbia and Alaska are the only jurisdictions which prohibit discrimination on the basis of family responsibility, family responsibility discrimination cases have increased almost 400 percent in the last decade.

Family responsibility discrimination (“FRD”) is discrimination based on family care giving responsibilities. It can occur through a refusal to hire a pregnant woman, failing to promote mothers with young children, or punishing an employee for taking time off to care for a child or a parent, among other things.

On April 17, 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) met to examine the intersection between work/family balance and federal anti-discrimination laws.

The EEOC highlighted that there appears to be a “maternal wall” which may act as a barrier to the advancement of women with children as well as the plight against the “sandwich generation” who is caring for both children and aging parents.

Noting that there has been an increase in pregnancy discrimination claims, the EEOC reported that the discriminatory behavior does not end with the birth of the child but rather attaches to employer’s views of many women and other caregivers about resuming their careers after childbirth.

The EEOC and its panel concluded that it is a violation of Title VII if employers make employment decisions based on stereotypes about working mothers or treat men and women differently based on their care giving responsibilities.

Due to the rise in FRD claims and the EEOC’s new focus on this issue, it is important for employers to consider introducing family friendly policies to help balance work and family responsibilities.

While most jurisdictions do not bar discrimination based on family responsibilities, these discrimination suits can arise in the form of sex and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII as well as violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

It is important for employers to train their supervisors to overcome any assumptions or stereotypes regarding pregnant women, working mothers, men actively involved in raising their children, employees on flex-time and employees who are caring for sick spouses and aging parents.

Likewise, employers should review their policies regarding hiring, attendance and promotion to make sure that they are free from biased standards. Employers can protect themselves from discrimination if they eliminate stereotypes from the workplace and support their personnel in all of their care-giving needs.