Estee Lauder in Court Over Family Leave Policy for Dads

Estee Lauder in Court Over Family Leave Policy for Dads

Estée Lauder Companies, Inc., a leading manufacturer of skin care, makeup, fragrance and hair care products, violated federal law when it 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. The parental leave program, which was adopted in 2013, provided new mothers time to recover from childbirth, in addition to six weeks of paid parental leave for child bonding.  Estee Lauder gave fathers whose partners had given birth only two weeks of paid leave for child bonding.  Additionally, new mothers are provided with flexible return-to-work benefits upon expiration of child bonding leave that are not similarly provided to new fathers.

What is the problem here? If companies are going to offer paid parental leave, new moms and dads must get the same deal. This is the argument in the EEOC’s lawsuit recently filed. Federal law requires equal pay, including benefits, for equal work, and that applies to men as well as women. The case arose when a male employee working as a stock person in an Estée Lauder store in Maryland sought parental leave benefits after his child was born.  He requested, and was denied, the six weeks of child-bonding leave that biological mothers automatically receive, and was allowed only two weeks of leave to bond with his newborn child.  Such conduct 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.  The suit seeks relief for the affected employee, and other male employees who were denied equal parental leave benefits because of their sex.

Kristen Smith, a lawyer at Bond Schoeneck & King who represents employers stated, “There’s a trend in the past five years where high-profile companies are enhancing their parental leave policies, and there’s been a lot of debate under the law about to what extent the policies need to be gender neutral.” Moving forward, and as suggested by the EEOC, employers should approach child-related leave with two distinct categories in mind. There’s medical leave related to the physical process of giving birth, and there’s separate leave that’s granted so new parents can bond with and care for their infant.

Most new or expecting fathers wish they could be more involved at the birth or adoption of a child, yet the reality that many fathers face often doesn’t match their desires. Society, however, is becoming more open to respecting the roles of fathers in the home with young children, so the laws are still changing.