Most employers have in place a maternity leave policy that provides for leave beyond that required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601, et seq. [i] Typically, such maternity policies provide partial or full-paid leave for up to three moths for biological mothers and comparable leave for newly adoptive parents. Most of these policies, however, do not provide comparable (or any) paternity leave.
Employers should consider adding paternity leave policies to avoid potential litigation, as many employers are finding themselves subject to lawsuits or charges by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For example, most recently, CNN, Turner Broadcasting and their parent company, Time Warner, Inc. (Time Warner) privately settled an EEOC charge initiated by a former CNN correspondent who alleged that CNN’s parental leave discriminated against biological fathers in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. The parental leave policy at issue provided biological mothers and adoptive mothers and fathers with ten weeks of paid leave. Biological fathers, in contrast, were provided with only two weeks of paid leave.
One CNN & Turner Broadcasting correspondent, aware that the policy only provided two weeks of leave to biological fathers, requested additional leave to care for his newborn. CNN denied his request. In response, the correspondent filed a charge with the EEOC asserting that the parental leave policy of CNN discriminated against biological fathers. Approximately two years after the charge was filed, CNN, Turner Broadcasting and their parent company, Time Warner, Inc. (Time Warner), were able to reach a confidential settlement with the EEOC and the correspondent. Time Warner apparently agreed to provide additional paid time off to biological fathers who took parental leave prior to 2015.
Notably, but not necessarily pursuant to the settlement agreement, Time Warner also made changes to its parental leave policy so that both biological mothers and fathers would receive six weeks of paid time off to care for their newborns. Biological mothers were allowed to receive an additional six weeks of short-term disability leave if necessary.
The Bottom Line. CNN is not the only employer to be subject to litigation by fathers for discriminatory parental leave. [ii] As these lawsuits and charges become increasingly prevalent, it is recommended that employers consider including equivalent parental leave to male and female employees.
[i] The FMLA requires that covered employers provide certain employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for enumerated family and medical reasons without loss of group health insurance coverage. Notably, only a few states provide paid paternity leave, including New Jersey, which are provided by the state’s insurance fund.