Estée Lauder Pays $1.1 Million to Settle EEOC Parental Leave Discrimination Claim

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

July 23, 2018

Under a court-approved consent decree, Estée Lauder will pay $1.1 million to settle claims that its parental leave policy discriminated against new fathers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed the charges on behalf of a class of 210 male employees.

The lawsuit claimed Estée Lauder provided new fathers with less paid parental leave to bond with a newborn or newly-placed adopted or foster child than it provided to new mothers. While new mothers were given six weeks of paid leave for child bonding after their medical leave related to childbirth was exhausted, new fathers only received two weeks of paid leave.

The company also unlawfully denied new fathers the same flexible return-to-work benefits provided to new mothers, the suit alleged, which allowed new mothers to temporary modify their work schedules for up to six weeks to ease their transition back to work following paid parental leave.

Parental leave, which is used to bond with or care for a newborn or newly-placed adopted or foster child, differs from maternity leave provided to women employees for pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. US law does not require employers to provide paid leave following the arrival of a new child, but employers are required to offer eligible employees unpaid FMLA leave and comply with other state and local family leave laws.

The EEOC holds that treating men and women employees differently for purposes of parental leave violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act, which prohibit discrimination in pay or benefits on the basis on sex.

In addition to paying the class of male employees $1.1 million, Estée Lauder also must administer its parental leave and return-to-work benefits in a manner that ensures equal benefits for male and female employees and also uses sex-neutral criteria, requirements and processes. The settlement also requires Estée Lauder to provide training on unlawful sex discrimination and to allow the EEOC to monitor the company.

Estée Lauder has implemented a new parental leave policy that provides all eligible employees, regardless of gender or care­giver status, 20 weeks of paid leave for child bonding and the same six-week flexibility period upon returning to work.

"Parental leave policies should not reflect presumptions or stereotypes about gender roles," said Thomas Rethage, senior trial attorney at the EEOC's Philadelphia district office. "When it comes to paid leave for bond­ing with a new child or flexibility in returning to work from that leave, mothers and fathers should be treated equally."