Cliché or not, we are living in unprecedented times. At least unprecedented in the lives of most readers; centenarians are a possible exception.
Here in the United States, the Coronavirus and the related shutdown of the economy have caused the most severe recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s. In terms of unemployment, at its peak in April 2020, there were at least 20.5 million people unemployed, or 14.7% of the population. The actual number was much higher, including non-traditional workers (think gig economy, Uber, Airbnb etc.).
But, as is often (or, unfortunately, usually) the case, this unemployment tsunami has not hit everyone equally. Women and racial minorities have borne the brunt of the layoffs.
There are obviously many reasons for this unequal distribution. For instance, many of the virus-related layoffs were in the hospitality sector, an industry in which more women work.
But unlawful discrimination has undoubtedly also played a part in many cases. One recent example that received significant press coverage, including here, illustrates some of the discriminatory behavior female white-collar workers, especially mothers, face working remotely in this new COVID-19 environment.
Ms. Drisana Rios worked as an account executive for an insurance brokerage firm. After the pandemic hit, Ms. Rios transitioned to working remotely in or around March 2020, so that she could take care of her two children, aged one and four. According to Ms. Rios, her supervisor did not approve of her choice to work from home and let her know it. Despite her informing him that afternoons worked best for business calls, because her children were napping, he continued to schedule her calls in the mornings. And, when her children could be heard in the background, he allegedly let her know it was unprofessional and advised her to “take care of your kid situation,” as well as made other “sexist statements” based on her being a mother. Shortly thereafter, she was unceremoniously terminated.
In Ms. Rios’s lawsuit – Wallace v. HUB International Insurance Services Inc., Case No. 37-2020-00019040 (CA Sup. Ct., Jun. 5, 2020)—which remains pending in San Diego Superior Court, she alleges gender discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.
While this particular case has garnered national media attention, stories like these are likely more prevalent than we would like to admit. The behavior of supervisors and management are, after all, a direct reflection of the views prevalent in society at large. So long as a sizable segment of company management does not alter its views on women, motherhood, childcare and work-life-balance more generally, discrimination will persist.