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May 31, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

JP Morgan Chase and Company has agreed to pay $5 million to settle a sex discrimination suit filed by a father who was denied parental leave (MSN, 5/30/19).
The payout resolves a 2017 complaint brought by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging bias against Derek Rotondo, who had applied unsuccessfully for the 16-week parental leave benefit available to employees who are the “primary caregiver” of a new kid.
Unsurprisingly, Rotondo was considered by the company to not be his child’s primary caregiver. 
In the complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Rotondo said the company told him it started from the presumption that a child’s birth mother was the primary caregiver. And because his wife, a teacher, wasn’t incapacitated and had the summer off, he couldn’t qualify.
Given that most primary caregivers to children are mothers, the company’s policy seems to have blatantly discriminated against fathers and in favor of mothers.  Indeed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled accordingly.
In 2015, the EEOC distinguished between postpartum medical leave, which the agency said could be “limited to women affected,” and leave for bonding with and caring for a new child, which had to be provided equally to men and women.
Does the EEOC’s distinction between “medical” and “bonding” leave include providing leave for mental health issues that frequently follow a child’s birth?  Physical recovery from childbirth is an obvious requirement for women, but significant numbers of mothers and fathers experience postpartum depression that can be quite debilitating.  Dr. Anna Machin reports that about 10% of new fathers and 14% of new mothers suffer Post Natal Depression (PND).  Interestingly, one factor that contributes to PND in fathers is their treatment as less important parents by the medical community and others, i.e. exactly what JPMorgan was doing.

The company of course disclaims any intention to discriminate, but multiple fathers joined Rotondo in his lawsuit and the resulting settlement.  That the company’s distinction between “primary” and “secondary” caregivers wasn’t understood by the company to discriminate against fathers taxes credulity.  That’s particularly true given that mothers are well-known to be primary caregivers most of the time.  Add to that the EEOC’s ruling referred to above, that was surely known to the company’s lawyers, and it’s hard not to conclude that JPMorgan was happy to encourage mothers to take on that role and fathers not to.

 Rotondo’s lawyer pointed out the obvious:
Companies would be better off just ditching the distinctions [between primary and other caregivers], said Peter Romer-Friedman, one of Rotondo’s lawyers. Providing all new parents the same amount of leave is a simpler and superior approach: “It’s easier to administer, and it doesn’t import the stereotypes or the distinctions that our society has artificially set.”
What a concept.  In fact, that concept is one other companies might want to seriously consider adopting.
 In 2018, 35% of companies said they gave new moms paid time off, up from 26% two years earlier, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. The share of firms saying they offered paid paternity leave rose to 29% from 21%.
That’s a very strong indication that many companies are discriminating against fathers in the provision (or lack thereof) of parental leave.  Plus,
Some, like Facebook Inc., say they offer all their employees the same amount of paid parental leave. But many other companies, like Wells Fargo & Co. and Uber Technologies Inc., use a system akin to JPMorgan’s, with more leave for parents who will be the “primary” caregiver of a new child than to those who will be “secondary.”
In short, look forward to many more such lawsuits in the near future or – dare we hope? – a change in policies at those companies that now illegally distinguish between parents.

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