In a case that could have ramifications around the country, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that many disabled California workers get less than their due simply because they are women.
“This discrimination exacerbates and expands the pay gap,” Kathryn Eidmann, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, told reporters. “We cannot have true equality between the sexes until the fact of being a woman is no longer a reason to compensate women workers even a penny less for injuries on the job.’’
The lawsuit alleges that injured female workers in California are denied equal disability benefits because of systemic gender bias. The case was brought against California state agencies that oversee the dispensing of workers’ compensation benefits on behalf of several women injured on their jobs, as well as the 700,000-member Service Employees International Union in California. The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status.
The suit comes at a time when equal pay issues are a hot topic, whether it’s in the workplace or on the presidential campaign trail.
Several companies, including Amazon, Intel and Apple, have released details in recent months on what their male and female employees earn. And in February, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said that the company, having found that female staffers were paid 99.6% of what their male counterparts earned, is committed to making wages equal regardless of gender. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has spoken often of the need for women to earn the same as their male colleagues doing the same job, signaling that it could become a top issue in her match-up against Republican Donald Trump.
Permanent disability benefits are often reduced, the suit claims, because an injury or condition is linked in part to gender-based “risk factors” like menopause. And the ramifications of some illnesses mostly associated with women, such as breast cancer, are considered less disabling than those that affect men, which can result in a denial of compensation .
One plaintiff, Janice Page, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2012 and ultimately underwent a mastectomy. Workers’ comp officials determined that Page, a corrections officer with nearly 30 years in law enforcement, contracted cancer after being exposed to toxins in the course of her work. However, a medical evaluator, adhering to American Medical Association guidelines, said that she had no permanent impairment, and so her insurance company denied her permanent-disability compensation.
Those guidelines give no impairment rating to women who undergo a mastectomy past childbearing age even if they were found to have breast cancer because of work conditions. The impairment rating for a woman who can still bear children is up to 5%. Yet a man whose prostate is removed because of cancer is usually assigned an impairment rating between 6% and 20%, according to the complaint.
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