Three women workers and the SEIU California State Council filed a proposed class-action lawsuit Wednesday in Los Angeles, challenging what they allege is systemic gender discrimination in California's workers' compensation system.
The lawsuit names as defendants numerous government officials and entities, including the state Department of Industrial Relations and the Division of Workers' Compensation, and alleges violations of the state Constitution as well as negligent training.
According to the lawsuit, overt gender bias exists in the state's workers' compensation system, including discrimination against working women injured on the job in which permanent disability benefits are reduced because of the worker's gender.
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A representative for the agencies could not be immediately reached.
The suit states that a female worker's award was reduced by 40 percent because her arthritis and related medical problems were attributed to "pre-existent non-industrial factors," including her gender and "post-menopausal status."
In contrast, men's benefits are not reduced on the basis of gender, the suit states. The complaint also alleges that if a woman past child-bearing age undergoes a double mastectomy due to work-induced breast cancer, the system presumes that she is entitled to no permanent disability benefits for the loss of her breasts.
However, prostate cancer is assigned a substantially higher disability rating, according to the complaint. One of the plaintiffs, Janice Page, is a police officer who developed breast cancer. She said she was exposed on the job to numerous carcinogenic toxins, including vehicle fires, ammunition, exhaust fumes, gasoline, diesel fuels, structure fires and narcotics.
She said she underwent five surgeries and the removal of her right breast, and continues to experience numbness on her right side.
"The loss of my breast has been devastating," Page said. "I carry the same weight on my duty belt as my male colleagues, confront the same dangers, work just as hard, and it is not fair for me and my (fellow) female peace officers to be penalized because of our gender."
Plaintiff Leticia Gonzalez spent eight hours a day, five days a week, for 17 years working on a computer as a telecommunications worker. After years of pain and numbness in her hands and wrists that affected her sleep, self-care and work, the workers' compensation system confirmed that her injuries were caused by the physical demands of her occupation, according to the complaint.
However, the state reduced the permanent disability benefits to which she was entitled by 20 percent, finding that she had "multiple risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome, primarily age and gender," the suit says.