In a recent case against JPMorgan Chase, lead plaintiff Derek Rotondo is setting the standard for a new era of gender-neutral caregiver-leave policies. In doing so, he is joining a wave of fathers coming together to legally challenge policies that have long placed the responsibility of raising children predominantly on women.
According to a NYT article, JPMorgan Chase announced that they had reached a tentative settlement in late May, part of which will involve the creation of a $5 million fund to compensate a group of fathers previously denied equal leave, about 5,000 strong. While other companies’ policies have been challenged in recent years, this will be the first settlement and corresponding policy change born from a class-action case brought by employees, thus giving workers all over the country an incentive to come forward. A case that initially focused on one employee, where the complainant was denied 16-weeks of caregiver leave on the grounds that he was not the primary caretaker (a role the company has historically reserved for woman), has become a catalyst for change. “Without a settlement here, workers wouldn’t receive the benefit of learning about behavior that we believe is unlawful and needs to be reformed,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, in an interview with the New York Times.
By naming primary and secondary “caregivers,” the JPMorgan Chase policy originally appeared to be relatively gender-neutral. However, as Mr. Rotondo found out, the company actually made it more difficult for fathers in heterosexual partnerships to qualify as the primary caregiver and be granted the full 16-week leave. The company policy considered birth mothers primary caregivers unless medically unable to provide childcare. The only other exception to the policy seemed to be if the birth mother decided to return to work sooner than 16 weeks, in which case fathers were allowed to take the balance of the mother’s leave.
Upon being told that he was not eligible to serve as primary caregiver, Mr. Rotondo contacted the Center for WorkLife Law at the UC Hastings College of Law, where he was put in contact with the ACLU, who has handled the case since then. According to the article, the ACLU’s interest in cases like this one began with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, founder of the Women’s Rights Project, who argued that, as long as men are discouraged from acting as caregivers, women would never achieve equality in the workplace.
JPMorgan Chase has since increased non-primary caregiver leave from two to six weeks and has started allowing any new parent to claim either primary or nonprimary leave after signing a notice that includes date of birth or adoption and allows for change of status with new circumstances.
Though only a minority of employers offer paid parental leave to fathers, the percentage appears to be rising, perhaps due to the work of organizations like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Commission reached a settlement with CNN in 2015 that required them to change their policy granting biological fathers only two weeks of paid leave, as compared to 10 weeks offered to mothers. They also recently reached a settlement requiring policy change with Estee Lauder, another company with a similar history of disparate treatment of fathers of newborns. On the other end of the spectrum, some companies encourage parental leave, like the Hewlett Packard Enterprise, who recently announced that both new fathers and mothers would receive at least 6 months of paid leave. We will be watching to see if other big-name companies follow suit, setting the stage for a new era of more equitable policies. Read the full article here.