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Workers’ Compensation and Gender Equal Pay

Casey Woodruff

Many employees in Aurora, Illinois know that they have the right to equal pay for equal work under the Equal Pay Act of 1963, yet many of those same employees know that the gender gap continues to impact women in the workplace. According to a fact sheet on equal pay from the White House, “in 2014, the typical woman working full-time all year in the United States earned only 79 percent of what the typical man earned working full-time all year.” To put it another way, the average woman earned only 79 cents for every dollar that a man earned for the same work. Does the gender gap persist in workers’ compensation payments, too? According to a recent article in USA Today, a lawsuit alleging that disabled female workers are given less money in workers’ compensation benefits than their male counterparts could have ramifications across the country, including throughout Illinois. What are the facts of the lawsuit, and if the plaintiffs win, will women who receive workers’ compensation benefits in Aurora be able to seek more money for their injuries? 

Plaintiffs Allege Injured Female Workers Denied Equal Disability Benefits 

According to the article, the recent lawsuit was filed in California but should certainly be of interest to employees and employers alike in Illinois and across the country.  What does the claim contend? In short, the recent lawsuit argues that “injured female workers . . . are denied equal disability benefits because of systemic gender bias.” Who are the parties in the case? Several women who were injured on the job and who allege that they are not receiving the same benefits as injured male workers for the same jobs brought the lawsuit against “state agencies that oversee the dispensing of workers’ compensation benefits.” The plaintiffs currently are seeking class-action status for the claim. 

Disabilities Impacting Women Treated as Less Severe Than Those Affecting Men 

Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that permanent disability benefits for women are reduced “because an injury or condition is linked in part to gender-based ‘risk factors’ like menopause.” In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the state agencies overseeing workers’ compensation benefits have considered the effects of diseases that primarily affect women (e.g., breast cancer) to be “less disabling than those that affect men.” As a result, some women have been denied workers’ compensation benefits. The guidelines that say women that are past child-bearing age, who undergo a mastectomy due to breast cancer do not have an impairment—for the purposes of workers’ compensation benefits—are not state-specific.  To be sure, one of the plaintiffs in the recent case was exposed to toxins at her place of employment, and as a result of that exposure, she developed breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy. The medical evaluator for workers’ comp looked to national guidelines from the American Medical Association, which “said that she had no permanent impairment.” Indeed, as the article makes clear, “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 lawsuit argues that men who have to undergo a prostate removal because of prostate cancer typically receive an impairment rating of 6% to 20%. The plaintiffs ultimately contend that the defendants violated both state and federal law, making this an important issue to watch for residents of Illinois. 

Contact an Aurora Workers’ Compensation Lawyer 

Do you have questions about filing a workers’ compensation claim? An experienced Aurora workers’ compensation lawyer can help. Contact Woodruff Johnson & Evans today.    

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