This week, The Boston Globe reported on a growing trend in the nation’s workplaces: more and more fathers are complaining that they are experiencing discrimination in the workplace because of their family obligations.
Changes in the law aimed at promoting gender equality and shifting attitudes about gender roles have resulted in more men taking a larger role than ever in caring for their children and sharing in household tasks. According to data from the Pew Research Center, men today spend about twice as much time as their fathers did on housework (9 hours per week versus 4) and almost triple the amount of time on child care (7 hours per weeks compared to 2.5 hours). Despite these gains, there’s no denying that women continue to bear the majority of the burdens on the home front. The same Pew Research Center report showed that today’s women still spend about twice as much time as men on both housework and child care (18 and 15 hours per week respectively). And even in couples where housework and childcare activities are more or less balanced, it’s usually the woman who carries most of the “mental load” for the family.
But, as men take on more of their share of family responsibilities, some of them say that their employers are treating them unfairly and expecting them to conform to outdated stereotypes of men working long hours while their wives take care of things at home. Courts and administrative agencies throughout the country have seen noteworthy increases in the number of discrimination claims—brought by men—relating to child care issues and parental leave policies. The numbers of these claims are expected to continue to rise.
The Globe article illustrates the trend by highlighting a lawsuit now pending in federal court in Boston. The case was brought by Kenneth Rossetti, an assistant city solicitor for the City of Lowell. In his suit, Rossetti alleges that his female supervisor denigrated his role as a male caregiver for his children. He claims that the supervisor criticized his use of approved, accrued leave to attend to family obligations. He says that the supervisor suggested that he should not need to attend to family matters because he had a wife, and that he should be able to work from home while caring for his children because he was “only babysitting.” Rossetti claims that the supervisor even suggested that he should skip his child’s birthday party in order to work. The City denies Rossetti’s claims and has moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that, even if the allegations were true, they are insufficient to state a claim for gender discrimination. In opposition to the motion to dismiss, Rossetti relies on precedent from the First Circuit Court of Appeals that “stereotyping, cognitive bias, and certain other more subtle cognitive phenomena which can skew perceptions and judgment” can give rise to a claim for sex discrimination. The Court has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss, so it remains to be seen what will become on Mr. Rossetti’s claim.
Regardless of how the Rossetti case turns out, savvy employers will be closely monitoring these trends and making necessary adjustments to their company culture.