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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,...

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Michael S. Arnold, Mintz Levin Law Firm, Labor Law Attorney
Member

Michael represents clients in connection with a variety of complex employment litigation matters, including pretrial, trial, and appellate work; administrative proceedings; and arbitrations and mediations relating to wage and hour, discrimination, noncompete, trade secret, general contract disputes, and other employee-related disputes. 

He regularly advises clients regarding employee performance, retention and separation issues, and compliance with discrimination, wage and hour, family and medical leave, workers’ compensation, disability, and other employment laws and regulations. He also prepares employment-related agreements and policies, including offer letters, employment and consulting agreements, confidentiality and noncompetition agreements, separation agreements, and human resource policies and procedures. 

Michael has also provided public and private biotechnology, telecommunications, and other companies with advice on employment issues arising in corporate transactions and bankruptcy proceedings.

In 2001, Michael served as a judicial intern to the Honorable Charles E. Ramos of the New York County Civil Branch Commercial Division in New York City, New York.

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