One of the largest banks in the world just settled a gender discrimination lawsuit — that was filed by men.
JPMorgan Chase agreed Thursday to pay $5 million to a group of male employees who were discouraged from taking 16 weeks of paid parental leave to care for a new child, according to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the organizations that brought the class action lawsuit on the employees’ behalf. Lawyers believe that about 5,000 fathers were denied extended leave.
It’s the first class action settlement stemming from a lawsuit by a male employee claiming that fathers were denied certain parental leave benefits because of their gender.
On paper, JPMorgan’s paid parental leave policy was generous and didn’t seem problematic. It offered 16 weeks of paid leave for a new child’s primary caregiver and two weeks off for secondary caregivers. But in practice, fathers who tried to take up to 16 weeks off as primary caregivers were discouraged by managers and told the company considers mothers the main caregivers, according to the settlement filed Thursday in an Ohio federal court.
Derek Rotondo, a fraud investigator and security expert for JPMorgan, filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in July 2017, shortly after the birth of his second child. Rotondo said he had asked for 14 weeks off as the child’s primary caregiver, but human resources staff told him that “birth mothers are what we consider as the primary caregivers.”
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Lawyers for JPMorgan have since granted him 16 weeks off and reached a settlement to compensate all other fathers who were denied extended paid leave between 2011 and 2017. The company also agreed to make sure that both men and women can take the longer leave benefit offered to a baby’s primary caregiver.
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Gender stereotypes about motherhood harm women at work
One of the most interesting parts of Rotondo’s complaint argues that JPMorgan’s parental leave policy discriminates not only against men, but also against women.
“It relies upon and enforces a sex-based stereotype that women are and should be caretakers of children, and that women do and should remain at home to care for a child following that child’s birth,” the complaint reads, “while men are not and should not be caretakers and instead do and should return to work shortly after the birth of their child.”
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And in some competitive industries, taking several months off work literally impacts a women’s earnings. At law firms, for example, that means mothers taking time off are logging fewer billable hours than their male colleagues.
Any policy that would discourage men from taking the same amount of time off has implications for women, too. That’s why the settlement against JPMorgan is so significant.
The risk of a lawsuit goes a long way in encouraging companies to follow the law, and in doing so, could help reshape American workplace culture so that it no longer punishes women who become mothers.