Lawsuit Alleged Discrimination Based on Gender Stereotypes About Caregiving

The legal landscape for caregivers in the U.S. is still largely uncertain when it comes to employment. The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world with no provisions at the national level for paid parental leave. Protections for caregivers against employment discrimination are patchy. New York City caregiver discrimination attorneys have more options than their colleagues in other cities, thanks to provisions in the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) that expressly address caregivers. Other statutes may offer protection to caregivers in certain situations. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) settled a gender discrimination lawsuit against a major cosmetics company. The agency had alleged that the company discriminated against male employees by allowing female employees to take more paid parental leave. EEOC v. Estee Lauder Companies, Inc., No. 2:17-cv-03897, complaint (E.D. Pa., Aug. 30, 2017).

Two federal statutes directly address employment discrimination on the basis of sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits a wide range of discriminatory acts based on sex and other factors. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 prohibits discrimination in wages based on sex, provided that the alleged disparity in pay involves jobs “requir[ing] equal skill, effort, and responsibility…under similar working conditions.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). No federal statute directly addresses discrimination on the basis of caregiver responsibilities. The NYCHRL is one of the first employment laws in the country to provide express protections on this basis. See N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 8-102, 8-107(1)(a).

The defendant in the Estee Lauder case offered paid parental leave to qualifying employees under four programs: “maternity leave, adoption leave, primary caregiver leave, and secondary caregiver leave.” Estee Lauder, complaint at 5. Three of these programs included at least four weeks of paid leave, with maternity leave lasting as long as six weeks. The secondary caregiver leave program, however, only allowed two weeks of paid leave. Employees using maternity, adoption, or primary caregiver leave were also entitled to a “transition back-to-work benefit,” which allowed them to gradually return to a full-time schedule over an additional four-week period. Id. at 5-6. The primary caregiver benefit was only available “in surrogacy situations.” Id. at 7. According to the EEOC’s complaint, the defendant only allowed biological fathers to utilize the secondary caregiver benefit.

After several male employees filed complaints with the EEOC, the agency filed suit, alleging that the defendant “assigned inferior benefits” to male employees who had recently become biological fathers. Id. at 8. Biological mothers were entitled to up to six weeks of paid maternity leave, followed by four weeks of the transition back-to-work benefit. Biological fathers were only allowed two weeks of secondary caregiver leave, and no transition back-to-work benefit.

The EEOC’s complaint focused on the lack of any transition back-to-work benefit for biological fathers. It alleged causes of action for sex discrimination under Title VII and the EPA. The parties entered into a settlement agreement in July 2018, which included a payment of $1.1 million in damages from the defendant.

The experienced and skilled employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent employees, former employees, and job seekers in New York City, helping them assert their rights in claims for sex discrimination and other violations of city, state, and federal law. Please contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.

More Blog Posts:

New Law Protects New York City Workers with Caregiver Responsibilities, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 9, 2018

New York City’s Caregiver Discrimination Statute Filled Several Important Gaps in Anti-Discrimination Law, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 8, 2017

How the Law Might Protect New Fathers in New York Against Caregiver Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 4, 2016

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