Reference no: EM131030943
Laurie Chadwick v. WellPoint, Inc.
561 F.3d 38; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 6426 (U.S. Court of Appeals First Circuit)
The issue is whether Laurie Chadwick was overlooked for the promotion because she had small children.
Stahl, Circuit Judge.
Laurie Chadwick brought a claim of sex discrimination under Title VII against WellPoint, Inc. after she was denied a promotion. She alleged that her employer failed to promote her because of a sex-based stereotype that women who are mothers, particularly of young children, neglect their jobs in favor of their presumed childcare responsibilities.
Chadwick was a long-time employee of WellPoint, an insurance company, in its Maine office. She was hired by WellPoint in 1997, and was promoted in 1999 to the position of "Recovery Specialist II," which involved the pursuit of overpayment claims and claims for reimbursement from third parties. In 2006, encouraged by her supervisor, she applied for a promotion to a management position entitled "Recovery Specialist Lead" or "Team Lead." In this position, the successful candidate would be responsible for the recovery function for the region encompassing Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Because Chadwick was already performing several of the responsibilities of the Team Lead position and based on her supervisor's comments, Chadwick believed she was the frontrunner for the position. In addition, on her most recent performance evaluation in 2005, she had received excellent reviews, scoring a 4.40 out of a possible 5.00 points.
There were two finalists for the Team Lead position, Chadwick and another in-house candidate, Donna Ouelette. While Chadwick had held the Recovery Specialist II position for seven years, Ouelette had only been promoted to that position about a year earlier. In addition, Ouelette had scored lower than Chadwick, though satisfactorily, on her most recent performance review, receiving a 3.84 out of a possible 5.0 points.
Three managers interviewed the two finalists: Linda Brink, who had previously supervised and worked closely with Chadwick; Dawn Leno, the Director of Recovery; and Nanci Miller, Chadwick's immediate supervisor. Nanci Miller was the ultimate decisionmaker for the promotion but she considered input from Brink and Leno in reaching her decision. Based on her own perceptions and those of Brink and Leno, Miller graded Ouelette's interview performance higher than Chadwick's. Miller subsequently offered the promotion to Ouelette over Chadwick.
At the time of the promotion decision, Chadwick was the mother of an eleven-year-old son and six-year-old triplets in kindergarten. There is no allegation, insinuation, or for that matter evidence that Chadwick's work performance was negatively impacted by any childcare responsibilities she may have had. Indeed, Miller, the decisionmaker, did not know that Chadwick was the mother of young triplets until shortly before the promotion decision was made. Apparently, Chadwick's husband, the primary caretaker for the children, stayed home with them during the day while Chadwick worked. He also worked off-hour shifts, presumably nights and weekends, when Chadwick was at home with the children. During the same period, Chadwick was also taking one course a semester at the University of Southern Maine.
Chadwick alleges that WellPoint denied her the promotion based on the sex-based stereotype that mothers, particularly those with young children, neglect their work duties in favor of their presumed childcare obligations. To support this claim, Chadwick points to the fact that she was significantly more qualified for the promotion than was Ouelette, and also highlights three statements made by management around the time of the promotion decision.
First, on May 9, 2006, two months before the decision was reached, Miller, the decisionmaker, found out that Chadwick had three six-year-old children (in addition to an eleven-year-old son). Miller sent an email to Chadwick stating, "Oh my-I did not know you had triplets. Bless you!"
Second, during Chadwick's interview with Brink, her former supervisor, she was asked how she would respond if an associate did not complete a project on time. Unhappy with Chadwick's answer, Brink replied, "Laurie, you are a mother[.] [W]ould you let your kids off the hook that easy if they made a mess in [their] room[?] [W]ould you clean it or hold them accountable?"
Third, and most important, when Miller informed Chadwick that she did not get the promotion, Miller explained:
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.
In her deposition, Miller said that she decided not to promote Chadwick because she interviewed poorly, and that she (Miller) only told Chadwick that she had "too much on her plate" in an ill-advised attempt to soften the blow.
Here, Chadwick alleges that the subclass being discriminated against based on sex is women with children, particularly young children. Ultimately, regardless of the label given to the claim, the simple question posed by sex discrimination suits is whether the employer took an adverse employment action at least in part because of an employee's sex.
In the simplest terms, unlawful sex discrimination occurs when an employer takes an adverse job action on the assumption that a woman, because she is a woman, will neglect her job responsibilities in favor of her presumed childcare responsibilities. It is undoubtedly true that if the work performance of a woman (or a man, for that matter) actually suffers due to childcare responsibilities (or due to any other personal obligation or interest), an employer is free to respond accordingly, at least without incurring liability under Title VII. However, an employer is not free to assume that a woman, because she is a woman, will necessarily be a poor worker because of family responsibilities. The essence of Title VII in this context is that women have the right to prove their mettle in the work arena without the burden of stereotypes regarding whether they can fulfill their responsibilities.
Particularly telling is Miller's comment that, "It was nothing you did or didn't do." After all, the essence of employment discrimination is penalizing a worker not for something she did but for something she simply is. A reasonable jury could infer from Miller's explanation that Chadwick wasn't denied the promotion because of her work performance or her interview performance but because Miller and others assumed that as a woman with four young children, Chadwick would not give her all to her job.
This inference is supported by several facts. First, the decisionmaker learned of Chadwick's three six-year-olds just two months before she denied Chadwick the promotion. The young age and unusually high number of children would have been more likely to draw the decisionmaker'sattention and strengthen any sex-based concern she had that a woman with young children would be a poor worker.
In sum, we find that Chadwick has put forth sufficient evidence of discrimination that a reasonable jury could conclude that the promotion denial was more probably than not caused by discrimination. We only conclude that Chadwick has presented sufficient evidence of sex-based stereotyping to have her day in court. 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 the new job, given "the kids" and her schooling.
The First Circuit ruled that the statements referencing Chadwick's motherhood were sufficient for a jury to conclude that she was denied a promotion because of her small children
Read Case (Laurie Chadwick).
Prepare a 800- to 1,000-word paper in Microsoft® Word in the third person voice in which you analyze the case by addressing the following:
• What federal laws were violated according to the case? Explain how they were violated and why.
• Defend against or support the decision to promote the plaintiff.
• Identify which individuals in the case need training and development in the future to minimize risk in the employment selection processes.
• Assess training and development programs and explain what type of training and development is needed by the defendant company.
Required a title page and reference page.
Response should be format with APA guidelines.