JP Morgan-Chase (“JPMC”) has settled a class action lawsuit brought by male employees who alleged they were denied being provided benefits on equivalent terms as female employees, under JPMC’s primary caregiver (“PCG”) policy. The male plaintiffs in this sex discrimination lawsuit claimed that JPMC treated them differently from their female coworkers between 2011 and 2017, when they were denied the sixteen weeks of parental leave their female coworkers were provided following the birth of their children and instead limiting them to two weeks of parental leave as “secondary caregivers.” The terms of the settlement require that JPMC establish a five million-dollar ($5,000,000) compensation fund to compensate the class of male primary caregivers, comprising nearly 5,000 fathers. The settlement has been jointly presented to Federal Magistrate Judge Michael R. Barrett, of the United States District Court of Ohio, Southern District, for court approval.
Derek Rotondo, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit against JPMC, initiated the suit in 2017 when he was denied status as a primary caregiver. Rotondo alleged that he was told by the company that the mother was the presumptive primary caregiver. As a result, Rotondo was denied the sixteen weeks of leave he sought and should have received as his child’s primary caregiver, and instead was given only two weeks of leave. Shortly after being denied the time he should have been awarded as a primary caregiver, Rotondo filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against JPMC, alleging that this denial of primary caregiver status and thus denial of fourteen (14) weeks of parental leave constituted unlawful gender discrimination in violation of Title VII. JPMC soon after reversed course and granted Rotondo the full sixteen (16) weeks to which he was entitled.
While the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) provides fathers and mothers with the same rights for job protected leave to bond with newborn children or newly adopted children, some companies offer greater job protection or even paid leave to their employees in excess of what is required under Federal law. When an employer offers such additional rights to leave or job protection, these rights must be extended to their employees without reference to or distinction based on that employee’s gender. The issues raised in this lawsuit illustrate the importance for employers to ensure that they treat all employees, regardless of their sex, in the same manner and provide them with the same benefits and privileges of employment.
When Rotondo requested sixteen weeks of parental leave, JPMC’s parental leave policy was facially neutral as to how the company determined whether the mother or the father was the primary caregiver in each particular case. However, in practice, in every case the mother was assumed to be the primary caregiver and JPMC would only vary from this position if the mother was medically unable to care for the child or if she returned to work before the sixteen weeks expired. In other words, JPMC ignored the highly personal decisions their employees made regarding childcare and applied a bright-line rule that unquestionably discriminated against their male employees. JPMC apparently recognizes that this practice was indefensible as they entered into the settlement agreement described above.
While the settlement amount of five million dollars ($5,000,000) may not have a massive impact on a company like JPMC, and while the amount each individual class member will receive from the compensation fund may not be life-changing, the impact of JPMC’s decision to enter into this settlement carries potentially far-reaching impact – extending well beyond the monetary settlement in this case. If Judge Barrett approves of the five million-dollar ($5,000,000) settlement Rotondo filed for, it will mark a significant win for employees. It would represent a recognition that, in our progressing society, we are finally beginning to respect gender equality in the area of childcare and paternity leave, moving beyond the outdated idea that a mother must be a child’s primary caregiver. Rotondo’s victory here shows that companies are beginning to respect that reality, or at least recognize that courts will require them to if they do not do so proactively.
Regardless of what action Judge Barrett takes, Rotondo’s lawsuit has already resulted in material change. JPMC no longer employs their practice of presuming the mother is a child’s primary caregiver, as a result of and in direct response to Rotondo’s actions. This is a significant victory, beyond the monetary recovery, as JPMC now provides their male and female employees with sixteen weeks of parental leave when they claim to be the child’s primary caregiver, without skepticism that a father can be a primary caregiver.
JPMC’s action in updating their antiquated parental leave policy is part of a larger national trend that has been growing in prominence over the past few years. Currently, many companies of the size and means of JPMC have begun offering paid parental leave equally to both mothers and fathers, without regard to their gender. While overall only a minority of employers offer paid leave benefits to new mothers, and even fewer offer paid leave to new fathers, these numbers are also rising quickly and steadily. As private employers begin to adopt more generous parental leave and job protection policies, they prove to the marketplace that such policies are practicable and realistic, which in time can lead to legislative change. This is a positive development for employees who believe that they may have suffered gender discrimination in connection with their parental leave or paternity leave.