Susan Crumiller had been a landlord-tenant litigator for nine years, when she began what was supposed to be a five-month leave to stay home with her newborn daughter. However, only seven weeks in, her employer began harassing her to return to work full-time, right away, and would not listen to Susan’s “no.” So at a time when Susan should have been able to focus on bonding with and caring for her baby, she was upset and preoccupied by responding to aggressive emails from her boss, and then feeling guilty about that distraction.
Susan knew that, bad as it was to deal with all of this along with the usual trials of getting a newborn on a sleep schedule, she was very lucky compared to the many parents who lack job security, a safety net of savings, or the wherewithal to stand up to labor violations. Where could those parents turn for advocacy and support?
Susan decided to open her own law firm to fight gender and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Today, Crumiller P.C. strives to make the American workplace more equal, resulting in better lives for employees who are fulfilling their goals, and a better economy by eliminating wasted potential. I had the opportunity to ask Susan some questions about her struggles and triumphs.
RSD: What pulls you toward pregnancy and parental discrimination litigation?
SC: Becoming a mother made me realize how absolutely horrific our society is when it comes to dealing with working parenthood. I had my own employment situation which is what ultimately drove me toward starting my own firm, but really it was the broader realization that the level of support we offer working parents is pathetic. The reality is more stark than I think anybody realizes in terms of how much discrimination there is against parents. Working mothers are perceived as less competent, less dedicated, less smart. I can tell you from experience both as a working mother and as an employer that NOTHING could be further from the truth. Being a mom means getting shit done, period. We have babies we are in charge of; babiness has not rubbed off on us.
RSD: What is the biggest challenge of this work?
SC: One big challenge is that women know they will be branded as a troublemaker if they sue and it makes them rightfully afraid to step forward. The solution is society-wide education. When you see an instance of pregnancy discrimination in isolation, without knowing how insanely common it is, you’re more willing to accept alternative narratives. Experts like myself know to look at a situation where you see a smart, dedicated woman fired during or after maternity leave, and we know exactly what is going on because we have the experience to know the context.
RSD: What changes have you seen in laws and enforcement of workforce policies around pregnancy and family accommodations since you began practicing?
SC: There are tons of changes happening! The biggest one is New York State’s Paid Family Leave law which now provides paid family leave to ALL employees throughout the state. It is one of the best laws in the country. Much credit is due to nonprofit organizations A Better Balance and Gender Equality Law Center who were instrumental in the passage of this key legislation (disclosure, I am a Director at GELC).
RSD: What is your hope or ideal vision for the future of parents in the workplace?
SC: I call for greater authenticity in the workplace. This means permission to acknowledge that we have lives and families. I proudly display my daughters’ pictures and drawings in my office. I don’t want any of my employees ever to feel like they have to hide or feel ashamed of their family obligations. Really, let me change my answer to “men doing equal parenting”—that will de facto solve all of our problems 🙂
RSD: What role do you see litigators playing in achieving that vision? )
SC: We litigators get compensation for people who were wronged, and at the same time we get to punish employers who misbehaved. Those two actions are at the heart of creating justice. I am very proud of the work I do.
RSD: You share on your website how you faced an unaccommodating boss after birthing your second child. What (if any) difficulties do you currently face as a working parent in the field of litigation?
SC: I very quickly built a law firm and staff who is able to adeptly handle most tasks I can delegate. So my life, while phenomenally busy, is pretty flexible. I work from home often and I take days off when I need to. One day I told a judge mid-trial I had just been notified that my daughter’s Mothers’ Day party was that afternoon at her daycare and that I needed to postpone the trial. It’s scary to ask, but I wish more people would do that instead of just missing the party.
RSD: What do you do as a boss to create a family-friendly practice? What practices would you recommend to other managers to change the culture for pregnant and parenting workers?
SC: I am extremely committed to creating a family-friendly practice at my firm. Being the change I wish to see is my life’s mission. I super proudly encouraged my male associate to take paternity leave and I paid him more than I could afford to make it happen. One of my attorneys works part-time, which is a pretty unusual arrangement. As long as they can fulfill their responsibilities, my employees can basically much work from home whenever they want. I am repaid in their unwavering dedication and loyalty. It’s a no-brainer. Aside from a generous work-from-home policy and generous leave policies, I also give out our leave and vacation policies before hiring so prospective employees don’t have to ask; I celebrate my employ
ee’s children’s birthdays and other milestones at our monthly staff meeting; I buy them parenting books I found useful.
RSD: Who inspires you to keep going when you are discouraged? What organizations or projects inspire you?
I am lucky to have somebody who inspires me every day and that is my best friend and sister law firm owner, Carrie Goldberg. Carrie is the founder of C. A. Goldberg PLLC, which is a victims’ rights law firm that fights psychos, assholes, pervs, and trolls, and she just wrote a book that is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Carrie identified a problem she wanted to solve, and she built a million-dollar business, one policy and procedure at a time, that does nothing but kick ass and take names, day in and day out. She is now taking on BigTech with groundbreaking litigation challenging BigTech’s current legal immunity. When I’m feeling discouraged, I think about Carrie and what she has accomplished. And then I keep going!
If you think you’ve been discriminated against at work because of your gender, pregnancy, or maternity leave, you can find out more about Susan and her amazing staff at crumiller p.c.