A group of California women have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the entire California workers’ compensation system, alleging widespread and systemic discrimination in the way women are compensated for injuries that occur at work.
The case, Page et al. v. Parisotto et al. alleges that the workers’ compensation system routinely attributes work-related injuries to the pre-existing condition of being female. For instance, one plaintiff states that her chronic carpal tunnel syndrome from years of typing at a computer was dismissed by the workers’ compensation evaluator as a consequence of menopause. Another woman with carpal tunnel syndrome claims that her evaluator attributed her symptoms to breastfeeding her newborn infant. These and other women allege that they were paid less for their injuries because the workers’ compensation evaluator illegally decreased their percentage of injury due to the women’s gender.
In addition, the complaint alleges that the system has ingrained gender bias when contemplating conditions unique to women, but not conditions unique to men. For instance, women whose breasts must be removed due to cancer do not qualify for workers’ compensation disability benefits if they are past the childbearing age. For women still in their childbearing years, the maximum disability rating is 5%. In contrast, a man who undergoes prostate removal surgery usually qualifies for a disability rating of between 16%-20%.
The main plaintiff in the case is Janice Page, a corrections officer who contracted breast cancer after being exposed to toxins over the course of her 30-year career. Page underwent a mastectomy to treat the cancer. Even though Page’s doctor contributed the cancer directly to her work as a corrections officer, the medical evaluator assigned her a zero percent impairment rating and her insurance company denied her request for disability compensation.
The plaintiffs also allege that the discrimination in the workers’ compensation system contributes to the pay gap between male and female employees. By valuing women’s disability claims as worth less than similar claims by their male counterparts, the women claim that the workers’ compensation system is helping employers compensate female employees less.
The case will likely involve complicated issues of employment law, discrimination law, and workers’ compensation law. If the plaintiffs are successful in proving their case, it could have a nationwide impact on the way medical evaluators treat workers’ compensation cases filed by women. For now, it remains to be seen what impact, if any, the case will have on California employees.
Sacramento, CA 95821