Workplace equality experts were alarmed at the comments of a federal judge in dismissing a discrimination case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Bloomberg LP.
The suit, filed in 2007 on behalf of 65 women, alleged that the financial information services company discriminated against new mothers by demoting them and cutting their pay after their maternity leaves. In the ruling, Judge Loretta Preska of United States District Court in Manhattan said there was insufficient evidence and wrote that Bloomberg had increased compensation for women returning from maternity leave more than for those who took similar leaves and did not reduce the responsibilities of new mothers.
Still, she wrote that women who demand schedule flexibility "likely are at a disadvantage in a demanding culture like Bloomberg's."
The judge also quoted former General Electric Chief Executive Jack Welch, who said: "there's no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."
Management experts said Judge Preska's language reinforced the notion that women who have children will be forced to continue to climb higher hurdles at work.
"This seems like a big step backwards," said Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, a group that promotes work-life balance for mothers.
Bloomberg said in a statement, "the U.S. District Court's ruling today confirms what we have known all along: that the evidence is squarely on our side and that this case is without merit."
Kathy Caprino, a work-life balance expert and the author of "Breakdown, Breakthrough," said the judge's comments maintain the status-quo competitive model, in which corporate power-brokers don't look favorably on time off and women must negotiate biological differences that can keep them from reaching their full potential in terms of seniority. The problem is intrinsic to corporate America, not just Bloomberg, she said.
"The implication is, if you prefer family over work, wherever you work, there will be consequences," Caprino said. "That model has to change. The law has to be reexamined."
Caprino added that women should lobby for legislation changes and speak out against managers who demote new mothers.
Others say women can overcome possible penalties with hard work and savvy networking. For example, Amy Siskind, a former department head of distressed debt trading at Morgan Stanley, "built up her franchise" with team members and powerful colleagues.
As a result, Siskind, 45, left the office everyday at 5:30 p.m. and was still able to run the department while pregnant.
"Women need to make themselves irreplaceable," said Siskind, the president of The New Agenda, an organization dedicated to advancing women into leadership roles. "There's no reason why women can't make a career on Wall Street and be a mother at the same time. These fields need women."
Write to Julie Steinberg at Julie.Steinberg@dowjones.com