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EEOC says Estee Lauder's parental leave policy is discriminatory

The cosmetics company Estee Lauder provides biological mothers, adoptive mothers and primary caregivers a generous benefits package. It includes six weeks of paid leave with a back-to-work rule that provides additional flexibility for up to four weeks. The six weeks of paid leave are in addition to paid leave mothers are given to recover from childbirth -- they are meant for child bonding.

Unfortunately, the company doesn't offer that benefit package to everyone. Biological fathers are considered only "secondary caregivers" under the policy. They receive only two weeks of paid leave, which must be taken within the first six months of the child's arrival, and they get no back-to-work transition flexibility. Other fathers appear to receive inferior benefits, as well.

The parental leave program was implemented in 2013, according to the EEOC. Two years ago, a biological father was told that he was not eligible for the more generous parental leave package because he was a "secondary caregiver." He says he was told he would not qualify as a primary caregiver unless his child was born via a surrogacy arrangement.

The EEOC contends that a paid leave policy that automatically assumes fathers are secondary caregivers deserving of less bonding time is discriminatory. Gender-based discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Equal Pay Act.

After attempting to achieve a settlement through its conciliation process, the EEOC filed suit against Estee Lauder in federal court in Pennsylvania. It is seeking back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages from the company on behalf of the employee.

"Addressing sex-based pay discrimination, including in benefits such as paid leave, is a priority issue for the Commission," said one EEOC regional attorney.

"It is wonderful when employers provide paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements, but federal law requires equal pay, including benefits, for equal work, and that applies to men as well as women," said the acting director of the EEOC's Washington field office.

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