Work-Life Balance Goes Out The Window With Bloomberg Discrimination Suit

A federal judge didn't just dismiss the pregnancy and sex discrimination claim brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of 65 employees of Bloomberg LP. She also delivered a stinging rebuke to the idea of work-life balance, at least as far as the courts are concerned in enforcing it.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska (nominated by George H. W. Bush) of the United States District Court in Manhattan said the EEOC hadn't shown any statistical or systemic basis for discrimination, only anecdotes that she said were based on hearsay or hadn't been shown to be indicative of a larger pattern. "The singular fact that the EEOC has no statistical evidence in support of its case, while maybe not fatal in itself, is severely damaging in this case," she wrote. "In addition to that fact, the EEOC has presented nothing other than anecdotal evidence. The result is fatal."

There were 78 original claimants, seventy-seven of whom said their compensation decreased after maternity leave. (During the time in question, the current mayor of New York wasn't in charge of the company, though the women say he minted the discriminatory culture there.) But the judge cited Bloomberg's analysis that showed that this wasn't indicative of the overall picture: some of the women's compensation had gone up, though in some case not as much as they'd hoped. The judge dismissed sexist comments presented as evidence as hearsay (there was no hostile work environment claim being prosecuted), and saw no evidence that women who took leave because of pregnancy were treated differently than those who took leave for other reasons.

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Unlike the most significant gender discrimination decision this year, the Supreme Court on Wal-Mart's class action suit, this was a decision based on the substance of the case, not whether the women qualified as a class. (Reuters notes that "the ruling did not cite the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Dukes vs. Wal-Mart.... Class certification was not required in the Bloomberg case because it was brought by the EEOC and not private parties.")

Still, the level of skepticism over the existence of systemic discrimination and the high bar for empirical evidence are similar. The EEOC had argued that statistical evidence "is not legally required to present a pattern of practice case," but that was precisely the issue the judge had with their case. (But by contrast to the Supreme Court objecting to the scale of the Wal-Mart case, Preska thought that the group of claimants, about 12 percent of employees who took maternity leave in that time, was too small to be representative.)

"The law does not require companies to ignore or stop valuing ultimate dedication, however unhealthy that may be for family life," she wrote, citing, approvingly, business gurus like Jack Welch who dismiss the idea of work-life balance, reflecting the "free market employment system we embrace in the United States." As for special consideration to pregnant women's role in society, she wrote, it "may be desirable," but it is not "required by law." She continued,

"Whether one thinks those consequences are intrinsically fair, whether one agrees with the roles traditionally assumed by the different genders in raising children in the United States, or whether one agrees with the monetary value society places on working versus childrearing is not at issue here.... The fact remains that the law requires only equal treatment in the workplace."

The women can now proceed with individual claims if they choose; six already have ones in progress.

Bloomberg EEOC Ruling [NYT]
Discrimination Suit Against Bloomberg L.P. Is Rejected [NYT]