Raising At-Risk Women and Their Babies: Men Need Not Apply?

Yesterday the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida against The Children’s Home, Inc. (soon to be re-branded as The Children’s Home Network) alleging that it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it dissuaded a male employee from seeking a position in its Adolescents in Motherhood (AIM) program it runs as a non-profit in the central Florida area focusing on at-risk children, including young mothers and expecting teens. And, when Luis Vasquez complained, his employer denied him a spot in its other programs, according to the EEOC’s Press Release. Mr. Vasquez had been employed since 2014 but was left without a job.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, The Children’s Home discouraged Vasquez, a male manager, from internally applying for a position in the newly created Adolescent Motherhood Program, which was similar to his then-existing position. The EEOC said that Vasquez was told that management “wasn’t sure if they would accept males to work at the new motherhood program,” and asked, “… can you imagine males changing pampers, working with babies and with pregnant girls?”Vasquez sought a new position with the organization because the program where he was employed didn’t receive renewed funding. Soon after complaining about the refusal to consider him because of his sex, he was advised that there were no other positions available at the organization for him, and he was thus without a job. Vasquez’s less-experienced female subordinate was selected for the newly created position in the AIM program, because of her gender.

According to the Children’s Home Network’s website,

The Adolescents in Motherhood (AIM) residential maternity program, located at Children’s Home Network, accepted its first teen mother on December 3, 2015. Since then, the program continues to provide services for teen mothers and expecting teens who are in foster care.

Adolescents in Motherhood is a blended residential program for new mothers and mothers-to-be ages 13-18 years of age. AIM is a haven for pregnant teens and mothers in foster care who want to remain with their child. The program provides a safe home, nutritious meals, individualized counseling, linkage with prenatal care, health care, and educational services to the girls. Our staff of child care workers, social workers, nurses, psychologists, and educational coordinators provide a structured, supportive environment where good health and learning are associated with responsible behavior and success in life. Classes in parenting and independent living skills, job readiness, stress-reduction, health, nutrition, and fitness help prepare our new mothers to be nurturing parents and self-sufficient adults who are ready to reconnect with their communities.

Adolescents in Motherhood (AIM). From a cursory review of this charity’s website, these folks appear to be doing good work and received a rating that non-profits get when they are both transparent and accountable. And “Children’s Home Network is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer and does not discriminate based on any protected class.” I presume that includes being male, which candidly we sometimes forget is also a protected category under Title VII.

Just as Title VII protects women in the workplace from the gender-based assumption that they always have to be familial caretakers, it also protects men from the stereotype that they cannot hold positions viewed to have such caretaking functions. -Evangeline Hawthorne, director, EEOC Tampa Field Office.

So what’s really going on here? Does The Children’s Home Network really believe that men cannot serve as role models for young and expecting mothers? Cannot teach parenting and independent living skills, job readiness and the like? Well, maybe. And if so, the EEOC has a point in bringing the lawsuit. Because at-risk teens benefit from positive role models of both genders. But Mr. Vasquez was already employed there. So it really might not be that simple.

Now I get to “man-splain” some stuff as a white, fifty-year old male regarding at-risk female teens. This is when I shine, in fact. When the human resources person allegedly said to Mr. Vasquez “… can you imagine males changing pampers, working with babies and with pregnant girls?…,” I wonder if she was thinking and would rather have said, “Luis, as you know, these young women are at-risk, and some have significant trust issues with men already, and we aren’t certain that they will progress through the AIM program if they harbor doubts about their counselors. Not even a little. We just haven’t thought through whether they or you will be successful in those roles.” Now, I’m speculating here, and giving the benefit of some doubts. But in my experience, that’s what happens. It’s not always about gender stereotyping in these situations. Often it has more to do with honest concerns about the mission. Although it can be difficult to articulate these concerns, they are real.

So what’s the right answer? What’s the solution? Well, it’s hard to say. Title VII is the law of the land, that more than fifty year-old law that LBJ and MLK championed over the glib objections of Senator Barry Goldwater. And I believe it ought to work in favor of Mr. Vasquez. Men absolutely ought to have places as counselors for at-risk children learning life skills and plotting courses towards better lives. But it’s also possible that for the particular set of at-risk young women in the Adolescents in Motherhood Program, perhaps men are not the right choice. Were I counseling the non-profit, I might want some expert advice upon which to base a decision. Because if not selecting men looks as though it is grounded merely in stereotypes about changing diapers and handling babies, rather than on, for example, documented trust issues, trauma, and PTSD, then the technical result, that the male applicant ought to have been considered and hired, might actually be the wrong outcome for the mission of the non-profit and the community it serves.

In situations like these, when the mission of the non-profit, or the job position in a for profit setting implicates characteristics of the “customers, clients” or employee that are protected under the law, it’s time to engage counsel and think critically about the circumstances. Customer and client “preferences” are never valid bases to discriminate. But new situations and circumstances present themselves constantly. Remember the rule: making decisions based on stereotypes about gender, race, religion, disability, or any protected characteristic is always wrong. But decisions based on specific, particular facts and data that relate to the job qualifications of the people involved withstand scrutiny.

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The author, Peter Rutledge, is an Employment Lawyer and Partner at Rutledge Law, Greenville, SC. You can contact him via these channels:
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“… can you imagine males changing pampers, working with babies and with pregnant girls?”

–The Children’s Home Network