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What Does the EEOC’s Lawsuit Against Estee Lauder Mean for Parental Leave Policies?

Last month, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Estee Lauder in a Pennsylvania federal court alleging that Estee Lauder’s parental leave policy discriminates against employees on the basis of gender by providing unequal benefits to biological mothers and fathers. What’s notable about this lawsuit is that it involves a policy which, on its face, uses a “primary” and “secondary” caregiver distinction that provides different amounts of leave to employees based on that distinction withoutregard to their gender – a practice used by many employers in their parental leave policies. This lawsuit has left many employers wondering whether such a policy is at risk of being unlawful. We do not think it is at this time.

What the EEOC Alleges:

As alleged by the EEOC, Estee Lauder’s policy went further than a simple distinction between a primary and secondary caregiver. It rendered that distinction meaningless, the EEOC said, by allowing a biological mother to obtain greater leave benefits (6 weeks of paid leave plus a post-leave flex schedule instead of just 2 weeks of paid leave and no flex schedule) even if they were secondarycaregivers, because they could qualify under a separate maternity leave policy which offered enhanced benefits. In contrast, biological fathers could not qualify under the separate maternity leave policy, leaving them eligible only for the benefits provided under the secondary caregiver policy. In addition, the complaint alleged that Estee Lauder communicated to biological fathers that they could not even qualify for the enhanced leave benefits as primary caregivers because that policy only applied in “surrogate” situations.

What This Means:

We are aware that many employers have been reviewing and revising their parental leave policies, particularly in jurisdictions – such as New York – that have adopted paid family leave laws and to otherwise keep up with an ever-changing market. Employers should be mindful of this latest lawsuit when engaging in that exercise. However, parental leave policies relying on a primary/secondary caregiver distinction alone, which are consistently enforced, do not appear to pose a problem for employers at this time.

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About this Author

Brie Kluytenaar, Mintz Levin, New York, Employment Relations Lawyer, Arbitration Attorney
Practice Group Associate

Brie’s practice encompasses a range of labor and employment law matters. She has represented clients in state and federal court, as well as before the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor, the New York State Public Employment Relations Board, and other administrative bodies. Brie also has experience handling arbitrations, preparing witnesses, and counseling clients on legal strategies relating to disciplinary investigations, compliance with federal, state, and local laws, risk avoidance, and potential litigation. 

Previously,...

212.692.6251
Michael S. Arnold, Mintz Levin Law Firm, Labor Law Attorney
Member / Chair, Employment, Labor & Benefits Practice

Michael Arnold is Chair of the firm's Employment, Labor & Benefits Practice.  He is an employment lawyer who deftly handles a wide array of matters. His capabilities include counseling on everyday HR life cycle issues, defending management and senior executives in connection with employment-related proceedings, and assisting companies navigate the complex employment issues that arise in transactions.  Michael’s clients appreciate his strong emphasis on providing not just legal advice, but also practical advice, that aligns with organizational and HR strategies while reducing exposure. He also prides himself on being user-friendly, responsive, and strategic.

When Michael is not with a client, he’s out there leading the Firm’s Employment, Labor and Benefits Section.  He is still quite active blogging for Mintz’s award-winning Employment Matters Blog, where he currently serves as an Editor and where he’s twice been named a top author by JD Supra (2016 and 2017). His peers seem to like him too as they have recognized him consistently; first he was included on the New York Super Lawyers Rising Star List in 2012 and then included among the New York Super Lawyers List from 2013 through the present.

More specifically, here is what Michael is practicing on a day to day basis:

  • Counseling on issues related to the HR life cycle (recruiting, staffing, performance, including evaluations and PIPs; engagement, retention, separation, including reduction in force; post-separation, including employee mobility issues), and compliance with discrimination, wage and hour, family and medical leave, workers’ compensation and disability, and other employment laws and regulations.
  • Investigating and reporting on employee complaints, including sexual harassment and discrimination complaints, and assisting management resolve other employee relations issues.
  • Conducting anti-discrimination/harassment and other HR and legal issue-based training seminars regarding legal requirements, best practices, and risk mitigation.
  • Auditing and assisting in the development and implementation of employment policies, procedures, and practices.
  • Representing management and senior executives in connection with a variety of complex employment litigation matters, including pre-trial, trial and appellate work; administrative discrimination charges and other agency proceedings (including EEOC, NYSDHR, NYCCHR, DOL, WCB); and arbitrations and mediations relating to wage and hour, discrimination, restrictive covenants, contract, and other employment-related disputes, including collective and class actions.
  • Drafting and negotiating employment-related agreements and policies, including offer letters, employment and consulting agreements, restrictive covenant agreements, separation agreements, and employee-related regulatory disclosures.
  • Representing clients in connection with corporate transactions and bankruptcy proceedings, including conducting employment-related due diligence and negotiating employment-related warrants and representations and related employment transaction documents.
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