September 27, 2021

Volume XI, Number 270

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September 27, 2021

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September 24, 2021

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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.

©1994-2021 Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 270
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About this Author

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

Brie represents a wide range of companies and has consistently achieved successful results for clients in fields including financial services, health care, technology, hospitality, media and cultural organizations. She has extensive experience resolving the many issues employers face throughout the employment life cycle, including counseling employers on hiring, terminations, reductions in force, internal investigations, wage and hour issues, disability and accommodations, statutory leave, and compliance with the rapidly-changing employment regulatory landscape.

Brie also has...

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...

212-692-6866
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