This week JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed to pay $ 5 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit related to the company’s parental leave policy. The discrimination suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of employee and father Derek Rotondo in 2017. Rotondo alleged JPMorgan Chase discriminated when they refused to grant him a 16-week parental leave benefit offered to “primary caregivers,” a somewhat euphemistic term used by many companies to suggest that not all parents should have equal access to caregiving leave. While the record settlement did not come with an admission of guilt, it does mark a significant step toward the mainstreaming of paternity leave – not just as a policy, but as a policy that one will consider taking advantage of.
Rotondo alleged that the refusal of his 16-week parental leave was due to the fact that JPMorgan only offered that amount of leave to the primary care provider, which the company presumed to be a child’s mother. In Rotondo’s case, JPMorgan claimed he was not the primary caregiver because his wife, a teacher, was at home for the summer and fully capable of taking care of the baby. That decision ran afoul of sex discrimination rules established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The federal body ruled in 2015 that parental leave had to be offered equally to both men and women. They distinguished leave to take care of and bond with a new baby as distinctly different from medical leave a mother might take to recover from postpartum health issues. Considering the leave Rotondo requested was not medical, but related to caring and bonding with his new baby, JPMorgan’s refusal to grant the leave request was discriminatory.
The good news here is that companies with similar leave policies will likely take note of the JPMorgan settlement. JPMorgan is not alone in its bifurcated and unbalanced policies. Some of the nation’s biggest employers have had policies that differentiate between poorly defined primary and secondary caregivers. Historically, the issue has affected workers at Amazon, Apple, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, the Walt Disney Company, and Wells Fargo.
Moreover and perhaps more significantly, the settlement could be a signal for men who may have been hesitant to take full advantage of parental leave benefits. That’s incredibly important considering numerous studies have found that fathers taking parental leave not only help close the wage gap and increase participation in unpaid household duties by up to 250 percent but also helps men form long-term bonds with their children.
The notion that parents can be sorted into primary and secondary groups is not only culturally harmful, it does damage on an individual level to father-child and mother-employer relationships. The JPMorgan settlement is a warning to employers that they can no longer lean on this outdated idea in furtherance of their own apparent interests. (In reality, there’s plenty of reason to think that encouraging men to take leave might be in the best interest of companies facing recruiting challenges.)
While it’s been nice to see many companies in competitive hiring fields leading on the issue, the recruitment carrot is unlikely to be as effective as the legal stick. Together, those things will create a more healthy environment in which one can not only negotiate parental leave but actually take it. Which is all to say that Derek Rotondo did future fathers a big favor by standing up for himself. Still, there will need to be more men like him – and there will be.