Gender Bias Rampant In Workers’ Comp Cases, Women’s Groups Charge

By Melody Gutierrez
San Francisco Chronicle.

A Bay Area mechanical designer suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome said she had her workers’ compensation reduced for a reason that has caught the attention of women’s groups and lawmakers: She was postmenopausal.

And she’s not alone in having her permanent disability claim reduced for factors that Sue Borg, her San Mateo attorney, said are clear examples of gender bias in the handling of workers’ compensation claims.

Borg said she frequently sees cases where women injured in the workplace are “penalized” for gender-related factors like pregnancies and menopause.

On Wednesday, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, will introduce AB305 in San Francisco, a bill she said would ensure that being female is not treated as a pre-existing condition by prohibiting a woman’s workers’ compensation from being reduced based on pregnancies, breast cancer, menopause, osteoporosis or sexual harassment.

“It seems like it should be obvious that we shouldn’t see this, but it happens in insidious ways all the time,” Borg said.

California employers are required to purchase insurance for on-the-job injuries, with employees receiving the benefit regardless of who was at fault. In exchange, workers can’t sue an employer for negligence related to their injury.

Workers who are permanently disabled receive compensation from insurers based on calculating how disabled they are and what portion of the injury is linked to their job versus previous health conditions or prior injuries.

System overhauled
The state workers’ compensation system of apportioning responsibility for an injury underwent major reforms under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 in order to reduce the soaring costs of insurance premiums paid by employers across the state.

“Before that, an employer was on the hook for the entire disability no matter the cause or whether it was successive injuries at different employers,” Jerry Azevedo, spokesman for the California-based Workers Compensation Action Network, which works to reduce job-related injury costs to employers. “The concept of apportionment is the employer pays their fair share for the injury.”

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