Derek Rotondo wanted to serve as the primary caregiver for his soon-to-be born second child, and hoped to take advantage of a 16-week paid parental leave offered by his employer, JPMorgan Chase. However, when he consulted with the financial-services company’s HR department, he was informed that he only qualified for two weeks of paid leave. Rotondo was told in writing that “per our policy, birth mothers are what we consider as the primary caregivers,” according to a class-action lawsuit he later initiated against the company. The only exceptions were if the spouse returned to work before the end of the 16 weeks, which would allow him to use the balance of the time remaining, or if the mother was medically unable to provide child care.
As the New York Times reports today, JPMorgan Chase says it’s reached a tentative settlement in the case. As part of the proposed settlement, the company will take steps to ensure that its policy is administered in a gender-neutral way, and it will create a $5 million fund to compensate up to about 5,000 fathers who were shortchanged in the past.
According to legal experts, the settlement may represent a milestone for working fathers and–if it’s approved by a judge–would be the first to result from a class-action case brought by employees.
“This gives an incentive for other workers to come forward” at other companies, Peter Romer-Friedman of the firm Outten & Golden, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, told the Times. “Without a settlement here, workers wouldn’t receive the benefit of learning about behavior that we believe is unlawful and needs to be reformed.”
NPR notes that Rotondo’s case is one of a small but growing number of class-action suits brought by men alleging that their employers’ leave policies discriminate against fathers. In 2015, it reports, CNN employee Josh Levs settled a similar complaint with parent company Time Warner, which changed its policy to allow the same leave to all new parents. In 2018, cosmetics firm Estee Lauder settled a similar case and agreed to pay over $5 million, NPR reports.
Paid parental leave is separate from the medical leave many new mothers receive to recover from a birth, which typically lasts for six weeks or so. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that when it comes to parental leave, “the [court] has made very clear that parental leave for caregiving has to be given on the exact same equal terms,” Romer-Friedman told NPR.
Policies guaranteeing equal parental leave for fathers are also supportive of women, who will benefit if their spouses can provide child care, he added.
Rotondo himself told NPR that he’s heard from many other fathers with similar complaints about their employers’ policies. He said he’s glad he brought the case “so that we could get rid of some of these stereotypes where it’s the woman’s job to have babies and cook and the man gets back to work and pays the bills. That doesn’t work for everyone; it’s not the century that we live in.”