|Two weeks ago I was interviewed
by a producer for CNN in Los Angeles. She came to my
office with a film crew and we spoke for more than an hour about
employment practices affecting workers who have minor children at home
as well as those who do not.
The interview was set up by a New
York producer for the Paula Zahn Now show. She had
informed me that they were planning a segment on working mothers
and wanted to give it some balance.
I incorrectly assumed that this
would be a typical show about working mothers juggling their
work and family obligations, and discussing the ways in which many employers try to
accommodate their needs. I felt that I could give this
topic some balance by warning that
accommodating workers with children can have the effect, sometimes unintended,
of trampling on the rights of workers without children.
During my hour-long interview, I
explained that workplace policies -- such as leaves, required overtime,
holiday scheduling, shift selections, vacation choices, flexible hours, and
benefits compensation -- should be fair to everyone regardless of their
marital status, parental status, or household configuration.
It's fine for employers to accommodate the needs of working
parents, but they should give similar consideration to the needs
of singles and workers without kids at home.
The interviewer asked questions which seemed like
they were geared to elicit an anti-working-parent quote and to
obtain comments showing support for employers who are skeptical
about hiring working mothers.
On several occasions, I was asked
questions as if I were an employer. At one point I was
specifically asked whether I would be skeptical about
having working moms on my staff. Since I am not an
employer with these concerns, I responded in general terms.
I did acknowledge that some employers
could be leery,
feeling that working moms want to have their cake and eat it
too. Some moms not only have a full work load but have a demanding family
life with kids who have pressing needs. If someone piles too
much on their plate, something may fall off. So, yes,
employers with concerns that work performance may be sacrificed
in a conflict between responsibilities at work and at home.
At one point, I was asked whether
a parent who received a
call about an emergency at home involving her child would
continue working or go home. I gave an obvious answer: "A person with
children is going to say I've got to go. There's no baby-sitter,
I've got to go. "
Based on those two sound bites,
taken out of context in a lengthy interview, Paula Zahn
mischaracterized my position as follows: "Tom Coleman, the
executive director of Unmarried America, a nonprofit advocacy
group, believes employers are justified in being skeptical of
Quite to the contrary, several times
during the unaired portions of my interview, I emphasized that
discrimination against workers on the basis of their parental
status should be illegal. Employers should not stereotype
workers with children as being unable to perform the job at
But the producers and editors of
the Paula Zahn Now show apparently decided to use me as a stooge
to support skeptical employers who discriminate
against working moms. So with a few snips out of an
hour-long interview, they created what they wanted.
When I saw the segment which aired on
television, I almost fell off my chair. How dare they
distort my views on workplace fairness.
In turns out that the show was
not about employers accommodating the needs of working moms, but
rather about employers who discriminate by firing them
after they take maternity leave. I only realized the true
nature of the segment when
I saw the show.
I was furious.
I sent off an e-mail to the
producer, complaining that they had done a hatchet job on me and
had distorted my positions on discrimination in the workplace.
I am against workplace bias, not in favor of it.
I feel that all workers should be
treated fairly -- whether they have kids or not and regardless
of whether they
are single or married -- and that privileges, benefits, and
flexibility for employees should not depend on marital status or
In the near future, the only skepticism I will be
discussing is my suspicion of television
producers who are so desperate for a sound bite to fit their
agenda that they are willing to sacrifice balance and fairness
in the process.
The good news in all of this is that the media
has been quite fair to me over the years. This is the
first time in dozens of television interviews --
with ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, and CNN -- that I have been the victim of such a
blatant distortion of my views. So the Paula Zahn show
will now hold an unsavory place of distinction in my life.
By the way, I never received a
response from the producer at CNN about my complaints regarding
Perhaps she has too much on her own plate.
Unmarried America 2006
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and