Human Resources News & Insights

EEOC files landmark parental leave lawsuit: Was dad discriminated against?

When this employer rolled out its parental leave policy a few years ago, it probably never imagined it would be facing an EEOC discrimination lawsuit by one of its employees. But that’s just what happened to one of the biggest names in cosmetics. 

The EEOC filed a discrimination lawsuit against Estee Lauder Companies Inc. because of its parental leave and flexible leave policies.

What’s more, the EEOC said this is the agency’s first lawsuit against a parental leave policy.

The suit also claims the company violated a federal law that requires men and women to be paid equally for the same work.

‘Primary caregiver’ vs. ‘secondary caregiver’

Specifically, the suit claims Estee Lauder only gave new fathers two weeks of leave for “child bonding” when it offered new mothers six weeks.

It also claims female employees were given more flexible arrangements when they returned from work after childbirth.

The agency took up the case after Christopher Sullivan, a stock worker at a Maryland store, requested six weeks of leave for the birth of his child, but was only granted two. Sullivan told the company he would be the child’s primary caregiver, but was told the company only applied the “primary caregiver” designation in “surrogacy situations,” according to the suit.

A new policy

Estee Lauder’s policy, which was only adopted in 2013, gave six weeks of leave to new mothers and “primary caregivers” and two weeks of leave to “secondary caregivers.”

In addition, the company offered new mothers four weeks of “transition” time, which allows them to return to work on a flexible schedule until they get re-situated at work.

Acting director of the EEOC’s Washington field office, Mindy Weinstein, did commend the cosmetics maker for its parental leave policy and flexible work arrangements, which it called “wonderful” (… at least in their intent).

However, Weinstein went on to add the caveat that “… federal law requires equal pay for equal work, and that applies to men as well as women.”

Cite: EEOC v. Estee Lauder Companies Inc., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of PA, No. 2:17-cv-03897

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