A recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) claim by a male employee alleging that his employer’s paid time off policy for new parents is discriminatory on the basis of gender is a potential alert to employers that even traditionally “generous” paternity leave policies may run afoul of Title VII. Indeed, although there can be some disparity between what an employer gives to a father and a mother in terms of parental leave policies, the disparity must still comply with Title VII.
Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit discrimination based solely on parental or other caregiver status, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic such as sex or race. In the case of the employee at issue, his employer’s parental leave policy afforded ten weeks paid time off to women who gave birth and to both women and men who have infants through adoption or surrogacy. The policy, however, afforded only two weeks of paid parental leave to biological fathers.
According to the EEOC, if an employer offers temporary or short-term disability leave, Title VII requires that the employer treat pregnancy and related conditions the same as non-pregnancy conditions. In enforcement guidance, the EEOC also asserts that “while employers are permitted by Title VII to provide women with leave specifically for the period that they are incapacitated because of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, employers may not treat either sex more favorably with respect to other kinds of leave, such as leave for childcare purposes.”
In light of this guidance from the EEOC, employers should bear in mind the following: