On March 5, 2018 I reported that the EEOC announced a settlement in its first lawsuit alleging that parental leave policies which granted more rights to mothers discriminated against new fathers. Details on the lawsuit’s allegations can be found here. The EEOC’s press release was devoid of details about the terms of the settlement. On July 17, the details became public, and they are likely to send shock waves through HR departments and C suites.
The EEOC has long been clear that, separate and apart from the disability related leave provided to women who give birth, parental leave policies should be gender neutral. However, the guidance has been largely ignored by all but the most progressive of companies…until now.
On July 17, the Pennsylvania court in which the case was filed entered a consent decree resolving the lawsuit. Estée Lauder agreed:
(1) to pay a total of $1,100,000 to the class of 210 male employees who, under Estée Lauder’s parental leave policy, received two (2) weeks of paid parental leave when new mothers received six (6) weeks of paid leave for child-bonding after their medical leave ended;
(2) to administer parental leave and related return-to-work benefits in a manner that ensures equal benefits for male and female employees and utilizes sex-neutral criteria, requirements, and processes; and
(3) to provide training on unlawful sex discrimination and allow monitoring by the EEOC.
Estée Lauder has implemented a revised parental leave policy which provides all eligible employees, regardless of gender or care¬giver status, the same 20 weeks of paid leave for child bonding and the same six-week flexibility for returning to work. For biological mothers, these parental paid leave benefits begin after any period of medical leave occasioned by childbirth. The benefits apply retroactively to all employees who experi¬enced a qualifying event (e.g. birth, adoption, foster placement) since Jan. 1, 2018.
Based on this settlement, employers should review their current parental leave policies to confirm that all parents are treated equally, regardless of their gender or level of caregiving responsibility. Similarly, businesses should train managers regarding the rights of the affected employees so as to avoid claims that fathers are being pressured into foregoing leave to which they are entitled or being stigmatized for doing so. Such actions on the part of supervisors or co-workers could lead to retaliation claims.
The EEOC’s entire press release can be viewed here.