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September 13, 2007

Separate But Equal

An interesting appeal here. So, City bird takes a year's maternity leave, comes back to work.

Miss Tofeji, 38, had worked with the investment bank for five years from October 2000 until her resignation in June last year. She argues that, after returning from a year’s maternity leave, she was placed in a vulnerable position and at a disadvantage because all her clients had been reassigned and a male colleague had been assigned permanently to her team.

Nor were there any “immediate plans to return the 29 clients she had successfully built up during her time at the bank”, the EOC said. “Instead, she was told to justify the return of any of her clients [to her],” said the commission. She was also refused flexible working hours (she wanted a four-day week) and experienced “a hostile reception” from colleagues.

So, she goes off to an employment tribunal and there....she loses. The appeal is against this decision. The EOC is backing her an at the heart of the argument is this:

...the tribunal decision ... compared her treatment with how she would have been treated as a man on leave for a similar period of time.

I've left out one word. "wrongly". Yes, the Equal Opportunities Commission is backing an appeal against a ruling that treats men and women the same.

What a wonderful world, eh?

September 13, 2007 in Feminism | Permalink


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You've rather prejudged the issue here, Tim. The question is whether the situations are both comparable, as well as whether she has a right to be treated differently.

Clearly, they are not comparable in that a woman, if she is to have a baby, has to go away for a while. It's not at all clear that we want to treat men and women exactly the same. Even if that is a form of equality, that may not be the best form of equality, nor the one that produces the best outcomes.

Posted by: Marcin Tustin | Sep 13, 2007 12:13:40 PM

And of course, if a couple have a child, the mother can get significantly more time off work than the father, so it should be altogether unsurprising that she chose to take the time off. If the father had chosen to take the same time off, he would not have enjoyed the same legal protection of a return to a job as the woman in this circumstance did.

Posted by: sanbikinoraion | Sep 13, 2007 1:07:57 PM

So, Marcin, a man who takes a year's leave for personal/family reasons (say to care for a dying relative) is NOT to be compared to a woman who takes a year's (maternity) leave for personal/family reasons. Damn right it doesn't compare. The man would have no income for all that time. He would probably not even have a job to go back to, but would have to apply for any similar position which came up.

Posted by: Paul C | Sep 13, 2007 2:56:38 PM

at a disadvantage because all her clients had been reassigned... she was told to justify the return of any of her clients

Does this not highlight the real problem here? Has no-one at the bank thought to ask the clients who they would prefer to deal with?

Posted by: Ed | Sep 13, 2007 5:25:50 PM

Paul C:

Both men and women have relatives who may at some point become sick and die, and may wish to take time off work to care for them.

Having babies is something that can only be done by women. There is no direct equivalent for men (which is why the argument arises at all).

As a society, we require women to have babies. It is, of course, not necessary for every woman to have babies, but, on average, women need to have babies, and men can't.

The purpose of "Equal Opportunities" legislation is to interfere in the free bargaining between employer and employee to require that women are not disadvantaged with respect to men. Given that women must, on average, have babies, one could view maternity leave as a natural disadvantage of being a woman, and so "correcting" that disadvantage becomes reasonable.

Posted by: Sam | Sep 13, 2007 8:09:24 PM

Once upon a time having a baby was a 'blessing' that needed no compensation.
Now women want to be men but not.

Posted by: john cramer | Sep 14, 2007 5:15:14 AM

Sam, how about correcting the disadvantage that exists when one couple gets paid leave of absence due to a lifestyle choice but another doesn't? (Consider also that the first couple will also have its lifestyle choice partially funded by the other couple anyway.) Why is Katharina Tofeji's desire to take a year off to have a child more important than my wife's desire to take a year off for a college course?

Posted by: Ian Bennett | Sep 14, 2007 9:27:47 AM

The point is rather that, if we are to survive as a nation, species or whatever, having children isn't, on average, a mere "lifestyle choice".

You're right - if you think if children as just a "lifestyle choice" then there isn't a shred of justification for mandating maternity leave, paternity leave, child benefit, or anything else beyond the same sick leave that anyone else gets.

The assumption that goes into almost all legislation even parenthetically related to children is that they are more than a "lifestyle choice". If you want to argue that children should be treated no differently by the state than, say, a pet cat, you can - but you need to make that argument. Yes, if you start with different assumptions, you get different conclusions. That shouldn't be surprising.

I could probably make a decent argument that the raising of children had a rather larger positive externality than your wife spending a year in college, given enough time.

Posted by: Sam | Sep 14, 2007 7:09:32 PM