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Governor Schwarzenegger
vetoes families

By Kristin Maschka

At last year's California Governor's Conference on Women, Maria Shriver sat on stage chatting with the Dalai Lama. As she talked, he paused, squinted, then pulled a baseball cap out from his robes and placed it squarely on his head. The stage lights were in his eyes.

Governor Schwarzenegger might have wished he could borrow that cap to keep a low profile at this year's conference. Who could blame him if he wanted to avoid speaking to 14,000 fired-up women after he vetoed a collection of family-related bills last month?

I wondered: Maybe he won't show up. Maybe he'll send along a note with his wife Maria that…there's been a death in the family.

Oops, that won't work. He vetoed a bill that would have finally guaranteed unpaid bereavement leave for California employees.

Maybe he'll avoid coming by saying he needs to care for his mother-in-law.

Nope, that won't work. He vetoed bills to expand California's unpaid leave and employee-funded paid leave programs so that employees could take leave to care for in-laws, siblings, grandchildren and grandparents, or adult children with serious illnesses.

I know, maybe he'll send his regrets saying that while Maria is running the conference, he needs to care for their four children.

Sorry, that won't work either. He vetoed a bill that would have prohibited discrimination based on familial status. So his boss (I guess that would be us) can tell him, "Sure, I know other people take days off for lots of reasons, but caring for the kids? That's your wife's job. We need you at work."

Governor Schwarzenegger may not understand how pervasive this type of discrimination is. Mothers are far less likely to be hired than fathers or men and women without children. Mothers' starting salary offers are thousands of dollars less. Members of our national organization, Mothers & More, tell us about hiring managers that question their ability to commit to both their jobs and their children. They tell us stories about being passed over for promotions because the manager presumed – without asking - that they wouldn't want to travel or relocate.

Our members also tell us stories about their husbands. Fathers are told, directly or indirectly, that taking leave for a new baby is really just for mothers. They tell us about fathers who know that while others knock off early to go golfing, they will get dinged on their evaluation if they leave early to pick up the kids.

This isn't a "business is the bad guy" thing. The stereotypes that lead to this type of discrimination are usually subconscious. Our collective beliefs about mothers and fathers are so deep; people don't even realize they are acting on them.

That's precisely why this anti-discrimination bill would have been good for business. Businesses are getting sideswiped with lawsuits. In an attempt to clarify things, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued guidelines. They said federal laws don't prohibit discrimination based on family caregiving responsibilities. However, some employment actions against caregivers are illegal, some of the time, under several different federal laws. A clear state statute would tell employers exactly what they are responsible for and make them aware of a problem that operates on a subconscious level among managers.

Even with the EEOC guidelines, employees need this bill because not everything is covered. Derek Tisinger, a firefighter in Bakersfield, California who is a single parent with custody of his three children, was passed over for a promotion. His boss told him "he didn't want to hear this garbage" about having to pick up his kids after school and wrote a memo directing him to "make arrangements for other persons to take your children different places."

Derek sued for discrimination. The final appeals court said a jury could easily conclude that Derek had been discriminated against based on his need to care for his family. But since that wasn't illegal, Derek lost.

Nothing in this bill required employers to give special treatment to parents or other caregivers. Nothing in this bill required employers to change their job requirements. All it would have done is make clear to employers and employees that it's not okay to steer mothers into lower paid jobs because people assume mothers aren't as committed. It's not okay to pass a mother over for a promotion because you presume she won't want to travel.

And this bill would have said it's not okay to tell a father that taking care of the kids is his wife's job so he can't take a day off look after his four children,

So Governor Schwarzenegger, as your boss, we'll be glad to let you use a day of leave to take care of your kids while Maria is running the women's conference. As long as you make sure the rest of us can do the same.

mmo : november 2007

Kristin Maschka is the past president and a current spokesperson for Mothers
& More
, a national non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of mothers.
She is writing a book for mothers that will be published in Spring 2009 by
the Berkley imprint of Penguin Publishing. She lives in Pasadena, CA, where
she is employed as a management consultant and she and her husband
care for their daughter and each other.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Also in MMO:

The rabble-rouser in me: A baby, a book and a reawakening
By Kristin Maschka

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the MMO or its staff.
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