It isn’t every day we hear allegations that a well-known company is discriminating against its male employees. When we do, the attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C. think it’s important to report about it in part as a reminder to employees that the laws that prohibit employment discrimination apply equally to all protected individuals. The case we are referencing is in the jurisdiction of the federal court in Pennsylvania, but the corporate defendant is one of the world’s largest cosmetics companies. It also employs hundreds of people at their Long Island facility, making the outcome interesting to nearby workers.
In August 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced in a press release that it filed a lawsuit against Estee Lauder Companies, Inc. for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA). The EEOC initiated the lawsuit after Christopher Sullivan, a male employee, filed a charge with the EEOC. In support of Mr. Sullivan’s allegations of gender discrimination, the lawsuit alleged that the beauty products corporation has a policy for paid parental leave that does not provide equal benefits to new fathers and new mothers. The EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of Sullivan and all other male employees at Estee Lauder who did not receive equal parental leave benefits.
Title VII is the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on protected characteristics. It generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Title VII states:
“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin or to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
In practice, Title VII means that an employer may not make an employment decision based on race color, sex, religion or national origin. “Sex” includes gender and pregnancy. The law also means that an employer may not treat an employee differently from another because of one of these characteristics. For example, an employer may not refuse to hire an applicant because she is pregnant or fire a qualified employee because he is a Mormon. An employer also may not set different standards for promotion based on race.
The EPA is narrower than Title VII because it applies only to employment decisions about compensation. The EPA “prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions.” Men and women must receive equal pay for equal work.
The EPA does not only cover hourly wages and weekly salaries. The EEOC states that the EPA prohibits sex-based discrimination in all forms of compensation including:
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For example, an employer may not have a policy that gives male employees two weeks of vacation and similarly situated female employees one. An employer may not allow all the women to work overtime but not the men. Such policies violate the EPA.
The EEOC filed a lawsuit on August 30, 2017, alleging that Estee Lauder’s paid parental leave policy violated both the EPA and Title VII because it does not provide the same benefits to new fathers as it does to new mothers. The lawsuit claimed that Estee Lauder violated the laws by its adoption and application of its policy.
Estee Lauder’s policy was, the EEOC alleged, created to allow employees to bond with new children. The plan provided maternity leave, adoption leave, primary caregiver, and secondary caregiver leave. Secondary leave was a paid two-week period and the others 6. The policy also contained a flexible 4-week period to transition back to work. This portion of the plan included benefits such as working from home, flexible hours and shorter workweeks.
While Christopher Sullivan awaited the birth of his child, he sought approval to take time off to spend with his family. The policy administrator informed him that biological fathers could only apply for and receive secondary caregiver leave. The EEOC claimed in its complaint that all eligible biological fathers working at Estee Lauder automatically qualified for secondary caregiver leave. All biological mothers, however automatically qualified for primary caregiver leave receiving six weeks of paid time off plus the four-week flexible transition benefit.
It is the EEOC’s position that the policy discriminates based on gender under Title VII by providing inferior benefits to equally eligible male employees than females. A parental leave policy is different than a plan directly addressing the needs of pregnant women. As one spokesman for the EEOC put it, “Leave related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions can be limited to women affected by those conditions. However, parental leave must be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms.”
The EEOC takes these cases quite seriously and has made it a priority to eradicate wage discrimination and unequal benefits distribution that still exists in the workplace. Bloomberg News reports that only a small number of companies offer their employees paid leave as Estee Lauder does. In most states, there is no legal obligation to do so.
For those that do, a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management shows that women still receive better benefits than their male counterparts. The study concluded that new mothers get an average of 41 paid days compared with 22 paid days for new fathers. Even “generous” policies gave birth mothers more paid time than non-birth parents.
The outcome of the EEOC lawsuit may inspire the companies providing paid leave to reconsider their policies and how they apply them to male and female employees.
If you work for Estee Lauder or any other business and have been denied the paid leave for which you are eligible, consider calling employment discrimination attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C. Our experienced firm has been representing workers on Long Island and throughout the metro area for over 20 years. We have achieved outstanding results for thousands of clients and welcome an opportunity to hear more about your workplace discrimination claim.
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