When coronavirus ground life to a halt earlier this year, many working mothers found themselves facing a crushing predicament: either put their careers on hold to supervise, feed, and entertain their children around the clock or fully exhaust themselves attempting to effectively juggle two full-time jobs. Drisana Rios, a 35-year-old mother of two young children, picked the latter option — apparently to the disapproval of her employer.
In March, after California governor Gavin Newsom enacted the state’s stay-at-home order, Rios continued with her normal duties as an account executive for insurance-brokerage firm Hub International, working out of her home in San Diego; meanwhile, she fed and watched over her 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. Her employer seems to have found this unacceptable. In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court in San Diego County, Rios claims that her supervisor refused to accommodate her demanding schedule in any meaningful way and that she was ultimately fired because her supervisor thought her children were too noisy during work calls. She is alleging gender discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination and is seeking back pay and compensation.
According to the complaint, as reported by the New York Times, Rios experienced the most workplace friction with her supervisor, who she says was “motivated by a clear bias against mothers.” In the suit, Rios claims her supervisor repeatedly assigned her tasks with unnecessarily short deadlines and frequently scheduled meetings during lunchtime, when they knew Rios “was feeding her children, nursing, or putting her child down for a nap.” During these calls, per the suit, the supervisor would then complain about being able to hear Rios’s children in the background. (It is unclear whether Rios has a partner.) Nevertheless, Rios says she continued to work harder than ever.
“It was extremely difficult, but I managed to meet all the deadlines,” Rios told the Times in a statement through her lawyer. “There was some days where I had to work late to meet rush deadlines or any duties I couldn’t finish during the day because I had to care for both of my young kids at the same time.”
Eventually, Rios says, she was instructed to address her “time-management issues” with another supervisor, though that only made matters worse. Per the Times, this supervisor told Rios he was “tired of accommodating” her and called her “defensive.” Meanwhile, Rios hired a nanny to help her around the house, but her efforts came too late. “By the time the nanny started, Ms. Rios was already in the bad graces of her employer as she had reported discrimination to HR,” Rios’s lawyer, Daphne Delvaux, told the Times. On June 2, Rios’s position was terminated, with the company allegedly citing the economic impact of coronavirus as justification.
In a statement to the Times, a Hub International spokeswoman said the company “can’t comment on pending litigation” and instead said, “Hub is proud to have successfully transitioned 90 percent of its 12,000-plus employees to working remotely from home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Rios’s lawsuit is not the first of its kind: Earlier this year, a single mother in Pennsylvania was told she had to either take a leave of absence or resign after she requested more flexible hours so she could care for her 11-year-old son, she claimed in a lawsuit; she was later terminated. And for months now, legal experts have been predicting an “avalanche” in discrimination lawsuits against employers who refuse to accommodate working parents — in particular, mothers. According to a study released earlier this year, the coronavirus has nearly doubled the amount of time working mothers spend on housework, with women now spending a staggering 65 hours a week on unpaid labor. By comparison, men are spending around 50 hours a week on it.
“The optimistic view is that we’re finally going to change our view of the definition of the ideal worker,” Joan Williams, the founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law, told the Washington Post. “The pessimistic view is we’re going to have an avalanche of lawsuits as we discriminate against adults with caregiving responsibilities.”