Fathers' Rights to Time to Bond with New Babies: Estée Lauder Settles with EEOC about Paternity Leave

Fathers' Rights to Time to Bond with New Babies: Estée Lauder Settles with EEOC about Paternity Leave

In August 2017, the Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced it was investigating Estée Lauder for allegedly violating federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination by denying a male employee the same amount of paid paternal leave as a female employee would receive for maternity leave.  This was the first well-publicized attack on maternity leave policies that provide better benefits to new mothers than new fathers.

The employee, Christopher Sullivan, asked for six weeks of paid leave to bond with his newborn child. He was only granted two weeks from the company. Sullivan filed an EEOC complaint. The EEOC proceeding in a class action, alleging Estée Lauder violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by providing new fathers less paid leave to bond with a newborn, or with a newly adopted or fostered child, than it provided new mothers.  The EEOC also alleged new fathers were denied return-to-work benefits such as modified schedules.  The EEOC proceeded to litigation on this claim with a class action on behalf of the 210 male employees who received only two weeks of leave instead of six.  On July 17, 2018, the EEOC announced that Estée Lauder settled the class action for $1.1 million and agreed to administer a parental leave policy and return-to-work benefits in a sex-neutral manner.

This case is an important reminder to companies the protections from sex discrimination certainly extend to men as well – and reverse discrimination in any category may still constitute an actionable wrong.  Companies should review their policies (both formal and informal) especially for employees with new children (born, adopted, or fostered) as well as any other gender-specific policy.

If you have questions or concerns about this or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our Employment and Labor Law attorneys: Thomas Ryan, Esq. (tryan@lcrlaw.com), Ursula Leo, Esq. (uleo@lcrlaw.com), or Jessica Jansyn, Esq. (jjansyn@lcrlaw.com).  Our attorneys can also be reached by phone at (973) 729-1880.