JPMorgan Chase prides itself on diversity and inclusion. It has a generous, gender-neutral policy which provides paid time off for new parents: 16 weeks for the “primary caregiver,” and 2 weeks for the “non-primary caregiver.” What could be more inclusive than that?
Yet one dad claims this policy is insufficiently woke. In June 2017, Chase employee and two-time dad Derek Rotondo filed a class action lawsuit regarding the parental leave policy. After almost two years of litigation, just this past week, Chase has agreed to pay $5 million in settlement.
So what was Rotondo’s beef with Chase’s gender-neutral parental leave policy? According to his complaint, filed in federal district court for the Southern District of Ohio (No. 1:19-cv-408), the policy discriminated on the basis of sex, “including sex-based classifications and sex-based stereotypes.” Specifically, when Rotondo asked for 16 weeks of paid time off to care for his newborn child, the HR representative told him that birth mothers are presumed to be the primary caretakers for their children. Wow, Chase, that is so not woke.
In Chase’s defense, a non-birth-giving parent could receive the full benefit by showing that the birth mother had either returned to work or was medically incapable of caring for the child alone. Unfortunately (?) for Rotondo, his wife was healthy, and she was also on summer break as a schoolteacher. Thus, Rotondo was only eligible for the 2-week benefit, rather than the 16-week benefit.
Rotondo claimed that his two weeks of paid time off made him a victim of sex discrimination under Title VII. According to his complaint, the Chase parental leave policies “rely upon and enforce a sex-based stereotype that women are or should be caretakers of children, and that women do or should remain at home to care for a child following the child’s birth, while men are not or should not be caretakers and instead men do or should return to work shortly after the birth of a child.”
Chase must have been worried about the lawsuit; it caved. According to documents filed with the court, the $5 million class settlement will be divided among male employees who took parental leave as non-primary caregivers – after class counsel has its cut (up to 33% or $1.67 million), and after Rotondo takes his bonus for serving as class rep ($20,000). In addition, Chase is required to implement monitoring and training to support a gender-neutral implementation of its parental leave policy. As with all class actions, the settlement must be approved by the court.
So why would a progressive company like Chase be so retrograde as to assume that birth mothers, and not fathers or any other gender-neutral parental unit, would need or want a longer period of leave? Could it be that the #problematic HR representative who triggered Rotondo believed that only birth mothers, uh, give birth? Recovery from childbirth is no small feat. Could it also be that birth fathers don’t lactate and cannot nurse their children? Oh wait.
Dads can give birth too. Apparently they also lactate. Oregon just revised its lactation accommodation law to delete the pesky pronoun, “her.” Where the previous statute staid, “An employer shall provide reasonable unpaid rest periods to accommodate an employee who needs to express milk for her child,” the amended statute refers, awkwardly, to “an employee who needs to express milk for the employee’s child.” ORS 653.077(2)(a).
Have we reached peak wokeness yet? We have certainly reached peak ridiculousness. As a Harvard-trained, female attorney, I believe in equal opportunities for women and men. Yet the whole meaning of equal opportunity breaks down once we deny all differences between the sexes. These differences are most acute when we are discussing reproduction.
Women’s bodies are not shaped this way just for men to admire. Our bodies are shaped this way to do a job, perhaps the world’s most important job. That job involves giving birth, the miracle that allows the human race to survive. It also involves nurturing new humans until they can eat and survive on their own. Longer maternity leave for women honors this basic reality. In fact, if more women were able to stay home with their children longer, we wouldn’t need “lactation accommodation,” with or without pronouns. If a woman wants to nurse her baby, she wants to nurse her baby, not spend all her breaks hooked up to a milking machine.
It is the height of irony that Chase attempted to move beyond sex differences by dividing parents into the binary of primary and non-primary caretakers. Good for Rotondo for highlighting the hypocrisy, even if he is a greedy whiner. I’m not one bit sorry for Chase, but I am sorry for American mothers.
[Note to my regular readers: next installment of Job is coming soon!]