A Delaware dad is suing his employer over a discriminatory parental leave policy that identifies fathers as “secondary caregivers.” The suit, filed against Estée Lauder on behalf of new dad Christopher Sullivan by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is the latest in a series of actions aimed at tearing down discriminatory leave policies that deny fathers benefits equal to those enjoyed by new moms.
Estée Lauder’s parental leave policy in the United States offers a full six weeks of paid maternity, adoption and primary caregiver leave. That’s augmented by another four weeks of flexible transition time that allows employees to shift schedules or work from home as they get back to work. The problem is that fathers are ineligible for the six weeks of leave because they are, by default, considered “secondary caregivers.” Under the company’s policy, secondary caregiver are only allowed two weeks of leave and no flexible time when they return.
The cosmetic giant is not alone in giving dads literal second class status in leave policies. The financial giant J.P. Morgan Chase is also the subject of an ACLU lawsuit on behalf of an Ohio father due to a similar secondary caregiver policy. And according to a recent survey by non-profit Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US) of the 44 largest employers in the U.S. only 10 provide equal leave to both new mothers and fathers. Those companies include Target, Hilton, Verizon and Ikea.
The problem with paltry leave for fathers is that the policies are both legally flimsy–what the hell is a secondary caregiver?–and harmful to children. Research shows that children who have fathers present during their first three months of life have much better outcomes in areas like language acquisition and long term mental health than those that don’t. Having a father at home not only allows increased pair bonding, it relieves maternal stress, increases equity in household duties and improves the chances that new mothers will return to work and continue to earn.
Not only are groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics pushing for more comprehensive and equal paid leave policies, the issue of equitable parental leave is quickly becoming a bipartisan issue. That is particular as both republican and democratic lawmakers in state legislatures like Washington work to hammer out comprehensive state leave policies that cover both moms and dads.
That said, there are some who still insist on politicizing parental leave through wrongheaded policy debates. And as long as those kinds of debates persist in the United States, it appears fathers will have to continue fighting for an equal parenting status in the courts.