If you are among the millions who found themselves suddenly working from home due to the coronavirus lockdown, you know it presented some new and previously unconsidered challenges. While some had to carve out a workspace in their house or apartment and others struggled with a lack of technology adequate to the needs of conference calls, some faced much more.
Parents, for example, might have suddenly had two people working at home. They also had kids at home. How to manage conference calls, household tasks, and work? It has been a very interesting switch and adjustment.
For one California woman, though, her challenges were even greater.
Drisana Rios was like millions of others in her home state of California, and found herself doing the work of mom and professional under one roof. An employee of Hub International (an insurance firm), she said that she worked harder than ever before upon transitioning to remote work.
With a four-year-old and one-year-old at home, she had her hands full. Yet, things got even more challenging when, as she alleges, her male supervisor complained about the noise the kids made during conference calls. According to a report by News San Diego, she offered to put the kids in another room, saying: “’Do you want me to lock my kids in the room? My one-year-old in the room? Do you want me to do that?’ And… he responded and said, ‘Figure it out.'”
Only half-serious, Rios said she intended to arrange her calls around her children’s afternoon naptime. This worked, but her boss continued to bully and demean her, and even alter her schedule to ensure meetings occurred outside of naptimes.
This was when she contacted the Human Resources Department of the company to address the harassment and find relief. A week later, she was fired.
Her attorneys filed a lawsuit against the supervisor and the firm. The filing cites Gender discrimination, Retaliation, Gender harassment, Failure to prevent gender discrimination, Negligent supervision, Intentional infliction of emotional distress, and Wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
It also argues that HR had sided with management, abusive management, and fired Ms. Rios for making a complaint. The HR rep for her company said that she was being laid off due to reduced revenue as a result of COVID-19. But, the attorneys argue, that is a cover-up. Their filing explains that Ms. Rios was told to “take care of your kid situation,” and endured many sexist statements that demonstrated her supervisor’s bias against mothers.
Now, she is seeking unspecified monetary damages, including lost pay and some compensation for emotional and mental distress.
An article in The New York Times says that this is likely to be one of many such cases relating to the pandemic. It noted that “Ms. Rios’s predicament reflected the challenges that many working mothers faced as the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close and halted many summer activities for children,” quoting Joan C. Williams, a law professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in San Francisco to explain how the pandemic will trigger many similar cases.
“We expect an explosion of cases involving family responsibilities, discrimination, and, specifically, discrimination against mothers,” she said.
Ms. Rios said she had already struggled with her supervisor’s attitude about mothers, explaining that her former boss was intense and working with him stressful. She explained that her interview was a warning sign as he questioned her about her abilities in light of having two kids at home.
Will women leave the workforce because of such issues? This lawsuit is the first of many and will help to illuminate if women are still facing the peculiar prejudices of working and parenting in a way men do not.