Need-Based Employment

78 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2022

See all articles by Shayak Sarkar

Shayak Sarkar

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: August 23, 2022


Scholars equate employment with productivity. Yet employment based on economic need, not only productivity, defines American history. After the Great Depression, New Deal programs prioritized putting poor Americans back to work. Need-based employment also resonates with modern intuitions and laws—work-study, tax credits, government contracting, and donated leave (encouraged by the world’s richest as a way for low-wage employees to survive pandemics).

Despite need-based employment’s intuitive appeal and persistence, it implicates a significant legal problem. Consider a notable incident from then-Professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life. As a new professor, her Dean paid the eventual Justice less because she had a highly paid spouse. As federal courts confront similar controversies, scholars and jurists have repeated Ginsburg’s anecdote as a classic example of sex discrimination.

A presumption that gay married men swim in money, or that women can subsist on a husband’s income, is straightforward sex discrimination. But when employees in fact experience such support—whether due to patterns of heterosexuality, hypergamy, or other financial realities— we must confront the tension between our need-based inclinations and how needs assessments incorporating one’s relationships may disparately impact otherwise protected groups. Since white women and gay men are more likely than Black counterparts to economically benefit from their marriage to men, intersectionality reveals need-based employment’s potential and encourages clarification of “business necessity” and other statutory defenses. This Article provides a fuller vision and potential legal defense of need-based employment, challenges and all.

Suggested Citation

Sarkar, Shayak, Need-Based Employment (August 23, 2022). Boston College Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Shayak Sarkar (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

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