Workplace Culture

Ohio Appellate Decision Sends Working Moms Back to the 1950s

By Jon Hyman

Jul. 19, 2016

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An employee claims her supervisor advised her not to apply for an open position because “she is a single mother with kids and if [she] had to take time off work, it would jam [us] up for getting someone to cover the scheduling.”

The employee sues for gender discrimination. She wins in a landslide, right?

Guess again. She loses.

Edwards’ statements, if true, merely reflect his concern for the efficiency with which the company operated. Although the statements may have been insensitive to Weber’s relative position as a single mother, they do not, without some inferential leap or presumed ill intention, provide direct evidence of discrimination. This is especially so where, as here, Weber was offered the actual opportunity to apply for the position or, at the least, conduct further inquiry into the application process. We therefore hold the trial court did not err in concluding appellant failed to produce direct evidence of discriminatory intent.

The case, Weber v. Ferrellgas, Inc. (Ohio Ct. App. 6/30/16), reminds me a bit of this other case, from deep in the archives, which cost Kohl’s a $2.1 jury verdict. Different courts, different results.

I believe that Weber is an anomaly. To that end, take a look at this passage from the dissenting opinion, which is right on the money:

In this writer’s humble opinion, I disagree. I believe Edwards’ statements to Weber that he did not want her to apply for the service scheduler position because she is a single mother, if true, constitutes direct evidence of unlawful sexual stereotyping.

Employees should not have to choose between their jobs and their families. Employers who force women to make such decisions are guilty of unlawfully discriminatory sexual stereotyping. Companies need to pay attention to this issue. Weber notwithstanding, familial status discrimination is, and remains, illegal.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. To comment, email editors@workforce.com. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.
Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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