Ask The Lawyer By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq. – Fired For Marrying a Co-Worker
FIRED BECAUSE SHE GOT MARRIED: NEW WIFE SEES DISCRIMINATION
QUESTION: I met my husband on the job. We worked in different departments and, even after we started dating, no one ever said anything about it. After two years of dating, and then living together, we decided to make it official, and announced our engagement. Our employer congratulated us but then informed us that the company has a policy against employing married couples. One of us would have to transfer to a different location, or leave the company altogether. We got married anyway. Since I made less money, I resigned. But, the whole situation seems really unfair to me. Why should we be punished for getting married?
ANSWER: Michigan is one of about 21 states that forbid discrimination on the basis of “marital status,” but anti-nepotism policies like the one that cost you your job generally pass legal muster .Courts here have limited the definition of marital status to the categories you might see on a questionnaire — married, single, divorced, widowed or separated. If discrimination is based on a different aspect of marriage, it’s probably not marital discrimination under Michigan law.
Back in 1984, Michigan’s Supreme Court held that the legislature “did not intend that the term ‘marital status’ include the identity, occupation, and place of employment of one’s spouse.” That said, it is not permissible to discriminate against someone based on the race, sex, religion, or national origin of their spouse. For example, it would be illegal to demote a white employee because she married a Black man, or to fire a male employee because he married to another man.
Several decades ago, marital status discrimination was common. Many companies would refuse to hire an unmarried woman who was living with a man, or a divorced woman (or man) because they were viewed as immoral. In the 1960s, banks could refuse to issue a credit card to an unmarried woman. A married woman – no matter what her job — could be asked to have her husband cosign her credit card application. Unmarried women could not be prescribed birth control. And many companies used to fire a woman when she married – after all, she didn’t need to work because now her husband could support her!
Very few companies now could afford to discriminate against unmarried couples living together: In 1960, there were about 450,000 such couples in the United States. By 2010, there were approximately 7.5 million.
Discrimination based on whether a person is married is not as prevalent as it used to be, but some biases still remain. Married men are often preferred over single men because they are viewed as more stable. Young, recently married woman are often viewed as likely to need maternity leave. Mothers who are married may be preferred to single mothers, who may be viewed as needing more time off.
Although anti-nepotism policies are usually upheld under Michigan law, you may have a legal claim against your employer. If your employer was aware that you and your husband lived together for two years, the decision to force one of you to leave when you married was treating you differently based on your marital status. You may want to consult with an attorney to explore your legal options.
The lawyers at GWINN LEGAL PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at www.gwinnlegal.com.
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ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN LEGAL PLLC
900 Wilshire Drive, Suite 104
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 970-0311 facsimile