Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of several protected classes, including sex. Thus, courts and administrative agencies have interpreted Title VII to prohibit an employer from engaging in discrimination related to pregnancy, childbirth or maternity/paternal leave. Employers must treat a woman who is disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions in a similar manner to other disabled employees. However, any additional benefits provided to male or female parents, whether discretionary or mandated by statutes such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, must be made available in a non-discriminatory fashion.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has stressed the importance of employers clearly explaining the types of leave available to all employees. Employers should distinguish between leave related to the physical limitations due to pregnancy or childbirth and leave related to bonding with or providing care for a child. An employer may limit leave related to the physical conditions of pregnancy or childbirth to the women affected by these conditions. However, if an employer extends leave to new mothers beyond the recuperation period of childbirth in order to care or bond with the baby, an equivalent amount of leave must be available to fathers for the same purpose.
This guidance was put into practice in 2017 when a class of male employees filed a lawsuit against JP Morgan Chase (“Chase”). A group of male employees alleged that Chase’s parental leave provisions were discriminatory in violation of Title VII. Chase allowed a parent to take 16 weeks of paid parental leave if they were the primary caregiver to the child. Chase automatically granted this additional leave to women. When male employees applied for this leave, however, they were required to prove that their partner had returned to work or was incapable of caring for the child. If the male employees could not make this showing, Chase provided a mere 2 weeks of paid leave. In May of 2019, Chase ultimately agreed to settle the dispute for $5 million and agreed to maintain a gender-neutral leave policy moving forward.
If your district offers maternity leave strictly to women who are disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions, you do not need to offer the same kind of leave to men. However, if your district offers additional leave to allow the mother to bond or care for the child, then the father is entitled to the same leave as the mother would be. Lastly, regardless of the district’s parental leave policy, it is important that all districts ensure that they do not discriminate hen determining who is eligible for parental leave.
You can review guidance on this topic from the EEOC. EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, Number 915.003, (June 25, 2015). Click here to access it.