The EEOC announced on February 27, 2018 that it had reached a settlement in the agency’s first lawsuit alleging that parental leave policies which granted more rights to mothers discriminated against new fathers. Details of the settlement were not announced.
The agency filed suit against cosmetics giant, Estee Lauder Companies, in August 2017 alleging that the company violated federal law when “it implemented and administered a paid parental leave program that automatically provides male employees who are new fathers lesser parental leave benefits than are provided to female employees who are new mothers.”
Estee Lauder’s parental leave program, adopted in 2013, was implemented in order to provide employees with paid leave for purposes of bonding with a new child, as well as flexible return to work benefits at the conclusion of the bonding leave. The leave policy granted new mothers paid time off to recover from childbirth followed by an additional six weeks of paid leave for child bonding. New fathers were given only two weeks of paid bonding time. Thereafter, the mothers were provided with flexible return-to-work benefits while the fathers were not.
The case investigated by the EEOC arose when a make stock person working in a Maryland store sought parental leave after his child was born but was denied the six weeks of paid time he requested. Although the employee was entitled to twelve weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), that time would have been unpaid and, for many employees, cost-prohibitive. Following the denial of equal benefits, the employee filed a charge of discrimination.
The EEOC decided to file suit on behalf of this male employee and others similarly situated alleging that the policy violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibit discrimination in pay or benefits based on sex. Typically, the EEOC brings suit in only a very small number of the approximately 100,000 cases brought before it on an annual basis. Suits are usually brought in matters where the EEOC believes it will get the biggest bang for its efforts. In other words, where cases impact large numbers of employees or where courts are asked to rule on cutting-edge issues of law.
Although the details of the settlement have not been released, we should and will watch for a consent decree outlining the terms. In this era of #metoo, we may now want to expect men to say #whataboutus.