Parental leave that is not gender-neutral can get expensive



JPMorgan Chase recently announced that it reached a tentative settlement in a class action suit by male employees who claim they were denied equal parental leave to bond with newborns.

The class action grew out of one male employee’s charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that he was denied the company’s 16-week paid parental leave and was, instead, offered only two weeks to bond with his newborn because he was not the primary caregiver. The company’s policy offers new mothers who are primary caregivers 16 weeks of paid parental leave. According to the EEOC, an employer can provide longer leave to biological mothers based on the medical need to recover from childbirth. However, if the employer offers leave specifically for purposes of bonding with the newborn, then men and women must be given equal amounts of leave for bonding.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the company will administer its policy in a gender-neutral manner and will establish a fund for male employees who were denied equal paid parental leave.

While this may be one of the largest settlements to date on this issue, it is not the first. Last year, Estée Lauder settled a similar class action lawsuit filed by the EEOC for $1.1 million. And in 2015, a CNN journalist settled a similar issue with parent company Time Warner Cable.

The recent uptick of lawsuits and settlements regarding unequal paid parental leave highlights the importance of understanding the different types of leave and ensuring that policies conform to the applicable laws. Well-intended and often progressive leave policies can easily run afoul of such requirements. Drafting and implementing policies must be done thoughtfully with a full understanding of how the EEOC and courts might view them. 

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