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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ind. Law - "In Indiana, domestic violence can pose dilemma for employers"

Good front-page article in the Sunday Indianapolis Star, reported by John Tuohy. Some quotes from the lengthy story:

After her boyfriend beat her and threatened to kill her in October, Kristianne Rouster was issued a protective order that prohibited him from contacting her in person, on the phone or by text.

Because such orders routinely include the workplace, Rouster told her employer, Pitney Bowes.

Within a month, she was fired.

"They said they need to protect their employees," Rouster said of her supervisors. "They said they were scared."

It's an explanation that workplace experts and women's rights advocates say they understand. "I don't fault the company for being concerned about their workers," said Lynn Hecht Schafran, senior vice president at Legal Momentum, a New York-based legal defense organization for women and children. "This is a concern for companies everywhere."

But Rouster's case also exposes what some say is a shortcoming in Indiana law. While Indiana has some progressive domestic violence laws, immunity from job termination isn't one of them.

That could be one reason why Rouster's predicament isn't unique. An Indianapolis attorney said it "happens all the time" and that she has intervened on behalf of at least a half-dozen abuse victims who were fired.

Women's advocates fear such dismissals may have a "chilling effect," discouraging abused women from pondering protective orders because they face a choice between their job and their safety. And some are calling for a change. * * *

Fifteen states prohibit employers for terminating victims because they took legal action against an abusive spouse. Most of those states even require companies to give battered women time off to deal with the legal issues or to settle into a new living environment.

Indiana isn't one of them. But it is one of only seven states to provide unemployment compensation to women who are forced to quit their jobs because of the threat of domestic violence or stalking.

Carrie Hyatt Bloomquist, legal director at the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the firing could have a "chilling effect" on other women who are abuse victims.

It is difficult enough already, she said, to persuade victims to file protective orders or leave their abusive spouses.

"Survivors (of violence) live in fear of their abusers -- that's how they control them," she said. "If the reaction to seeking help is going to be negative or hostile, it is no wonder more women don't seek it."

Hyatt Bloomquist said she has intervened on behalf of about a half-dozen abuse victims in Indiana who were terminated and helped them keep their jobs.

"Once the ramifications are explained to the employers, they usually come around," she said. "But with some companies, the attitude is that it is a family matter and it is too messy for them to deal with."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 20, 2012 02:20 PM
Posted to Indiana Law