Implement Gender Neutral Parental Leave Policies to Help Avoid Sex-based Discrimination Lawsuits

Can an employer provide more generous parental leave benefits to its female employees than its male employees?

The answer is “no,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Recently, the EEOC filed suit in federal district in Pennsylvania against Estee Lauder Companies claiming that its parental leave policies, which gave greater benefits to new mothers than new fathers and denied new fathers transition back-to-work benefits such as temporary modified work schedules, constituted sex discrimination and a violation of the Equal Pay Act.

Estee Lauder’s policy viewed new fathers as secondary caregivers. New fathers were only given two weeks of paid parental leave whereas new mothers were granted medical leave for pregnancy and childbirth (those policies were not challenged in the action) in addition to six weeks of paid child bonding leave and transition back-to-work benefits. The EEOC alleged that the policy violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Rather than proceeding with litigation to determine whether Estee Lauder’s policy violated these laws, the parties entered into a settlement agreement whereby Estee Lauder agreed to pay $1.1 million to the class of 210 male employees who had received only two weeks of paid parental leave rather than the six weeks of child-bonding leave that the company had granted to new mothers.

The company also agreed to revise its policy to provide gender neutral parental leave and transition back-to-work benefits. Estee Lauder’s revised parental leave policy provides all employees, regardless of gender, with 20 weeks of paid leave for child bonding and six weeks of transition back-to-work benefits. For biological mothers, the parental paid leave benefits begin after their medical leave for pregnancy and childbirth.

Revising Parental Leave Policies

In light of the Estee Lauder lawsuit, employers should review their existing non-medical parental leave policies and consider revising them to provide gender neutral parental leave and transition back-to-work benefits to avoid sex discrimination and equal pay law suits.

Julie Reddig is an employment attorney who represents management in workplace employment matters. For more information on revising non-medical parental leave policies, contact Julie at [email protected].