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Settlement in Paid Parental Leave Suit Provides Fathers With Enhanced Leave Options

JPMorgan Chase reached a tentative settlement in a class-action suit alleging discrimination in their paid parental leave policy. Derek Rotondo, an investigator from the company’s Ohio office, initiated the suit after he was denied the 16-week paid parental leave from JPMorgan Chase because he was determined not to be the “primary caregiver.” As the non-primary caregiver, he was offered only two weeks paid leave.

Although parental leave policies based on “primary” and “secondary” caregivers were originally an attempt to gender-neutralize leave in response to increasing numbers of same sex parents, Cynthia Calvert of the Center of WorkLife Law argues that these categories quickly became code for “mother” and “father”. In May 2017, Rotondo consulted with the human resources department about the upcoming birth of his second child and was told in writing that “per our policy birth mothers are what we consider as the primary caregivers”. The only exceptions are if his spouse returned to work before the end of 16 weeks, he could use the balance of the time, or if the mother was medically unable to provide child care, demonstrating that the policy was not actually gender neutral.

The proposed settlement includes a $5 million fund to compensate fathers who were affected by this unfair treatment between 2011 and 2017. It also includes steps to ensure that the parental leave policy is administered in a gender-neutral way. JPMorgan Chase is not the first company to have its parental leave policy challenged. However, this could be the first settlement to result from a class-action case brought by the employees, potentially incentivizing other workers to come forward.

Other large companies have also had their parental leave policies challenged. In 2015, CNN settled with a correspondent who complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that the company’s policy was discriminatory. It granted biological mothers 10 weeks of paid leave, but only two weeks for biological fathers. CNN has since changed its policy in an effort to be more equal. Similarly, in 2018 the EEOC brought suit against Estée Lauder for discriminating against fathers of newborns, where it was estimated around 200 men were affected. In the settlement Estée Lauder also agreed to change its policies to be more equitable.

Since this suit, JPMorgan Chase increased the parental leave for nonprimary caregivers to six weeks. Any new parent can claim primary or nonprimary leave with proof of birth or adoption, and their status can be changed if new circumstances arise.

Discrepancies in access to parental leave continue to be widespread. Only a minority of employers offer paid parental leave, but the number is rising. Even if employers offer paternity leave, there is still a large disparity in the number of fathers who take leave under these policies. With the rise of state-based paid leave policies, like New York State’s Paid Family Leave, and continued attention to employers’ parental leave policies, this area for the law is continuing to change.

Written by Emily Entwistle, Summer Law Clerk