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Lawsuit Alleges Unequal Disability Payments For Women

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 Clintonhas 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.

“I should not be discriminated against, and have my disability compensation reduced, because of a bias against women,'' Page said at the news conference. "It’s not fair for me or my fellow female officers to be penalized because of our gender.''

In an emailed statement, Christine Baker, director of the Department of Industrial Relations which monitors workers' compensation claims, called the charges in the lawsuit “misleading and superficial.’’

“The Department of Industrial Relations and its Division of Workers’ Compensation take allegations of gender discrimination in the workers’ compensation system seriously,’’ Baker said. “When the plaintiffs’ counsel sent a demand letter to the department dated April 20, 2016, we investigated the examples they cited.  The examples did not support the inflammatory accusations of systemic gender bias in California’s workers’ compensation system, and we requested more information from plaintiffs’ counsel to substantiate their claims.’’

Instead of providing more evidence, Baker says, the plaintiffs filed suit. “The department will vigorously defend the workers’ compensation system against these unfounded accusations.’’

The suit asks the court to find that such actions violate both federal and state law and to order California’s workers’ comp system to root out gender bias, implementing staff training, monitoring and taking punitive action when discrimination is discovered.

The current system "sends a clear message that women’s work is worth less, and that plaintiffs — many of whom have worked for decades as one of the few women in a male-dominated field — are valued less than their male colleagues," the lawsuit states. "Such a message denigrates the contributions of women to the workplace and perpetuates women’s unequal status.’’

Original Link to Article: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/07/06/lawsuit-filed-guarantee-california-women-same-disability-payments-men/86754760/

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