Sex-Bias Claim Against WellPoint Can Proceed

By Staff Report

Mar. 31, 2009

A WellPoint Inc. employee with four children who was told she did not get a promotion because there was “a lot on your plate” can pursue a sex discrimination claim against her employer, a federal appeals court has ruled.

According to the decision last week by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Laurie Chadwick v. WellPoint Inc., Chadwick—who at the time had 6-year-old triplets and an 11-year-old son—applied for a position as a recovery specialist lead at the health insurer in 2006. The position involved supervising the recovery of overpayment claims and third parties’ reimbursement claims in a three-state region.

Chadwick had more experience than her competitor, another woman. She was told by her supervisor when she did not get the position that “it was nothing you did or didn’t do. It was just that you’re going to school, you have the kids, and you just have a lot on your plate right now.”

The supervisor also told her that she and the other two managers who had interviewed her would feel overwhelmed if they were in her position.

The supervisor later said Chadwick was denied the position because she had interviewed poorly, and that she had made that comment “to soften the blow,” according to the decision.

Chadwick filed suit, claiming sex discrimination. A lower court granted summary judgment in favor of Indianapolis-based WellPoint.

A three-judge appellate court panel overturned that decision.

“Given the common stereotype about the job performance of women with children and given the surrounding circumstantial evidence presented by Chadwick, we believe that a reasonable jury could find that WellPoint would not have denied a promotion to a similarly qualified man because he had ‘too much on his plate’ and would be ‘overwhelmed’ by the new job, given ‘the kids’ and his schooling.”

The case was remanded to the lower court for further proceedings.

A South Portland, Maine-based spokesman for Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield in Maine, a WellPoint unit, said the decision was a disappointment.

“Our position has been, and continues to be, that Chadwick was not subject to any discrimination as it relates to her employment,” the spokesman said.

“We will continue to vigorously defend our case,” he added, but would not reveal whether the insurer planned to appeal the decision.

Chadwick’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

Filed by Judy Greenwald of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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