Estee Lauder provided four paid parental leave benefits: maternity leave, adoption leave, primary caregiver leave, and secondary caregiver leave. It also provided a transition back-to-work benefit, where an employee could arrange with their manager to work a flexed schedule or other alternative work arrangement. Maternity, adoption, and primary caregiver leave were all six weeks, while secondary caregiver leave was only two. The transition back-to-work benefit was only available to employees who were on adoption, maternity, or primary caregiver leave.
On the surface, the policies do not appear to provide different benefits to male and female employees; however, the case arose because a biological father was denied primary caregiver leave (though the company directs eligible biological mothers to request maternity leave) and, instead, directed the eligible biological fathers to request secondary caregiver leave.
The suit alleges that biological mothers were eligible for maternity leave without any requirement to establish caregiver status; however, when the eligible biological father sought primary caregiver leave (6 weeks of paid leave), he was told that that primary caregiver leave was only available in surrogacy situations and that he was only eligible for secondary caregiver leave (2 weeks of paid leave and no eligibility for transition back-to-work benefit). Accordingly, the suit alleges that Estee Lauder discriminated against male employees by providing them lesser-paid and inferior parental leave and transition back-to-work benefits by applying the different leave policies based upon sex rather than the parent’s status as a primary or secondary caregiver.The EEOC has identified sex-based pay discrimination, which includes paid leave benefits, as a priority for some time. While many of the prior cases have dealt with discrimination against women, this case demonstrates that the EEOC is equally concerned about the issue when it affects men. It is important that employers who desire to implement these policies ensure that both male and female employees are being treated consistently to avoid potential discrimination claims on the basis of sex.