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Law, Norms, and the Motherhood/Caretaker Penalty (Catherine T. Albiston - UC Berkeley)

Event Date: 
Monday, March 3, 2014

Catherine Albiston, Professor of Law and Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley will discuss recent research on the role of law in reducing workplace penalties for mothers and caretakers.  This event is free and open to the public.  Lunch will be provided.  Please RSVP by February 27th to Nicola McCoy ( Humanities Instructional Building (HIB) 135.
12:30-2:00 p.m. 


A substantial body of empirical research finds that mothers and caretakers experience significant workplace penalties, including negative evaluations, lower pay, and reduced prospects for promotion. Can law reduce these workplace penalties for mothers and caretakers? We present recent theoretical developments and research that uncover the social psychological mechanisms producing these disadvantages. We then discuss our theory and the results of an experimental laboratory study that show how laws prohibiting discrimination against workers who take family leave can eliminate these biases. Drawing on theories from law and society scholars, we contend that law affects society not only through punitive sanctions but also by changing moral judgments. This argument is confirmed by our finding that when the FMLA was made salient to evaluators, the law eliminated not only wage and promotion penalties for mothers and caretakers, but also negative normative judgments of these workers. In contrast, voluntary organizational policies made salient in the same manner produced mixed results, and in some instances increased discriminatory evaluations. These findings indicate that law can mitigate workplace penalties by changing normative judgments about mothers and caretakers, and that the law is more effective than voluntary policies in counteracting the disadvantages that caretakers experience.