Race, age, gender mean less compensation for injured workers

Published on

Dean Calbreath in the San Diego Union-Tribune
shines a spotlight today on the overt discrimination based on age, race
and gender that’s going on under the workers’ compensation "reform"
championed by the governor in 2004.

Thanks to the changes, workers’ compensation insurers are raking in big
profits. Rather than regulating workers’ comp companies and requiring
them to justify their rates to lower costs (like Prop 103 does in
California for auto and homeowners insurance), Arnold’s plan protected insurers and takes the biggest toll on injured workers.

Employer-chosen medical examiners are lowering benefits by attributing
a part of work-related injuries to the higher propensity of women to
get carpel-tunnel, or black men to have high blood pressure, or older
people to have hypertension.

Some examples from the story:

Last month, medical examiners at Kaiser Permanente in San
Diego cut down a food service worker’s claims for carpal tunnel
syndrome because she had several pre-existing conditions, including
"being female." In the past several years, medical examiners in other
locales have cited "female gender" as a reason for cutting carpal
tunnel claims, since women statistically report more problems than men.

Last September, a medical examiner in Los Angeles disallowed a
third of a 52-year-old clerk’s claims of work-related stress on the
grounds that her advanced age made her susceptible to hypertension. (As
a 52-year-old myself, I’m getting hypertense just thinking that some
young whippersnapper of a medical examiner thinks my age makes me

Last March, a medical examiner in Torrance disallowed a portion of
a cleaning woman’s claims that her work-related back injury had
resulted in depression. The examiner’s reasons for slimming down the
claim included that she was a woman from Central America.

"She’s from El Salvador and she is, as the pronoun indicates, a
woman," the examiner said in a deposition. "She has a personality
disorder… which sadly might apply to all too many women. And I must
say, when it comes to Central America, it might apply to more men than
I would care to mention."

A middle-aged Hispanic man who spent decades working for a utility
company injured his left shoulder and left leg on the job. By the
medical examiner’s account, the worker was involved in intense physical
activity: "putting up (power) lines, working underground, climbing up
poles, construction, maintenance of lines, kneeling, squatting." But
the examiner trimmed his claim, saying that his injuries were also
caused by his race, age and gender.

"Age plays a big role in what you determine the nonwork-related
factors are, even though he did work half of his life there," the
examiner said. "Some of these (factors) are racially connected and some
are gender connected."

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