A class action lawsuit filed in California might change the way insurance companies across the nation determine permanent disability benefits for female workers injured on the job. Several women have joined a lawsuit against California's workers' compensation system alleging that it unlawfully discriminates against women.
The suit claims that California's workers' compensation system uses gendered risk factors to determine compensation amounts for work-related injuries. “Factors” like menopause can cause compensation rewards to dramatically decrease or to be withheld entirely.
Janice Page, one of the women in the lawsuit, is a veteran police officer with 30 years of experience. Page developed breast cancer after years of exposure to toxins from her repeated interaction with drugs, fires, and ammunition while on duty. After her mastectomy, Page submitted a workers' compensation claim for her injury. Though the cancer and result mastectomy was found to stem from job-related exposure, Page was not determined to have a permanent disability based on the American Medical Association (AMA) guide.
Page has permanent scarring and lasting psychological effects from her mastectomy, but the state of California does not consider her injury to be a “permanent disability” because she is past regular child-bearing age. Under the same AMA guidelines, men who loose a prostate from a work-related injury are considered to be 16% to 20% impaired. The United States Veterans Administration considers women who undergo mastectomies to be 30% to 80% impaired.
Another woman listed in the lawsuit received diminished compensation for her severe, work-related carpal tunnel because her age and sex were considered risk factors for the disability.
It is illegal in all states to discriminate against a person based on the person's gender. Apportionment, the term for benefit calculations based on these “factors”, may effect as many as 11,000 California women each year.
Some California politicians tried to amend provisions of the AMA's guidelines through a bill introduced last fall. The bill, AB 305, would have prevented doctors from factoring in gendered conditions like menopause, pregnancy, or sexual harassment into compensation awards for workplace injuries. The bill would have also required doctors to rank prostate cancer and breast cancer as the same level of disability. California governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill.
Awards for workplace injuries are not a science; different body parts can be awarded different amounts in different states.
In 2013, Tennessee passed the Senate Bill 0200, one of the most significant changes to the state's workers' compensation system in recent history. The bill went into effect in January of 2014, and made the entire system less sympathetic to workers. The system is now neutral; it no longer favors the worker.
Earlier this year the state narrowly avoided another blow to workers' compensation when Senate Bill 721 failed to get a vote. The bill would have allowed businesses to completely opt out of the state's workers' compensation.
If the class action case in California is decided in favor of the workers, many other states across the country could soon see major changes to their workers' compensation systems as well.