JPMorgan agreed to pay $5 million to settle a suit brought by male employees alleging the company violated Title VII by giving fathers less parental leave than it did mothers.  The company’s parental leave policy allowed “primary caregivers” up to 16 weeks of leave while “non-primary caregivers” were given a maximum of 2 weeks leave.  The Plaintiff class charged that JPMorgan illegally used gender stereotypes in determining who qualified as a “primary caregiver” and that its policy, as applied, discriminated against fathers.  Though the company changed the language of its bifurcated policy to clarify that the caregiver categories aren’t based on sex, the terms of the settlement require JPMorgan to train HR representatives to apply the policy equally to men and women without regard to traditional notions of caregiving.

The case highlights a tricky area for employers.  As more and more companies offer family leave that goes beyond what is available to employees under state and federal law in order to attract the best talent, they must ensure these policies are applied equally and not based upon the gendered assumption that fathers aren’t primary caregivers.  While it’s legal to have a two-tiered parental leave policy, employers must be vigilant that neither the policy itself nor its application relies upon sex stereotypes.  Any leave policy should be tailored to your business and drafted with caution, and must be equally applied to all employees.

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