How do Family and Medical Leave Act rights operate in practice in the courts and in the workplace? This empirical study examines how institutions and social practices transform the meaning of these rights to recreate inequality. Workplace rules and norms built around the family wage ideal, the assumption that disability and work are mutually exclusive, and management's historical control over time all constrain opportunities for social change. Yet workers can also mobilize rights as a cultural discourse to change the social meaning of family and medical leave. Drawing on theoretical frameworks from social constructivism and new institutionalism, this study explains how institutions transform rights to recreate systems of power and inequality but at the same time also provide opportunities for law to change social structure. It provides a fresh look at the perennial debate about law and social change by examining how institutions shape the process of rights mobilization.
Catherine R. Albiston is Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. She is active in the American Sociological Association and the Law and Society Association, serving in several capacities, including Trustee for the Law and Society Association. Her research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the American Bar Foundation, and she has published widely in peer-reviewed journals and law reviews, including Law and Society Review and Annual Review of Law and Social Sciences.
1. Institutions, inequality, and the mobilization of rights; 2. The social institution of work; 3. Institutional inequality and legal reform; 4. Mobilizing the FMLA in the workplace: rights, institutions, and social meaning; 5. Mobilizing rights in the courts: the paradox of losing by winning; 6. Conclusion.