Kassidy Michel, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review
Parental leave is an important topic for workers across the country and across the world. Although almost all developed nations across the world have a national policy that provides for paid parental leave, the United States is not among those nations. However, the issue of parental leave has gained momentum since eight states, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington, have enacted policies to give paid family leave in their jurisdictions. On August 13, 2019, two former attorneys from Jones Day filed suit against their former employer, claiming Jones Day’s parental leave policy for its attorneys and other employees discriminates based on sex. This lawsuit is just one of several discriminatory parental leave cases that have been filed against employers in the United States recently. This blog will discuss the ongoing parental leave case, Savignac v. Day, and the increasing trend of parental leave cases in general.
On August 13, 2019, in a complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, husband and wife lawyers Mark Savignac and Julia Sheketoff alleged, among other things, that “Jones Day’s parental leave policy discriminates on the basis of sex and archaic gender roles by giving eight more weeks of leave to all women than to men.” Like many modern families, Savignac and Sheketoff wished to share equally their parental roles without being penalized by their workplaces. The complaint goes on to allege that Mr. Savignoc was fired from Jones Day because he sent an email to the firm challenging its leave policy as discriminatory and demanding equal treatment for Savignoc. The specific policy challenged in the complaint provides primary caregivers with 18 weeks of paid leave for biological mothers, 10 weeks of paid leave for biological fathers, and 18 weeks of paid leave for adoptive parents. The extra eight weeks of leave for biological mothers is considered disability leave, but all biological mothers are given the full 18 weeks regardless of disability from childbirth.
Savignac’s and Sheketoff’s claims say that Jones Day’s parental leave policies discriminate on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, and the D.C. Human Rights Act. If the plaintiff’s claims are proven, they could constitute sex-based disparate treatment under those acts.
Jones Day responded to this initial claim by posting a response on their website from the firm’s managing partner, Stephen J. Brogan. In this statement, Brogan defends the firm’s parental leave policies and states the firm “intends to try this case in court, not in the media, and will have no further comment beyond the pleadings and proofs in the case.”
Federal Judge Randolph Moss of the District of Columbia ruled on September 4, 2020 that “the Court cannot resolve on the pleadings the central question raised by Plaintiffs.” Accordingly, the case is continued and will be set for trial in the future.
The Savignoc v. Day case comes at a time when more people are challenging their business’s parental leave policies based on sex discrimination charges. Many claims against businesses are brought to court on the basis that the parental leave policies discriminate against new fathers because, traditionally, men have been considered the secondary caregivers of the family. According to U.S. Census data, an estimate of 7 million men identify as stay-at-home dads. This number has significantly increased over the past ten years and continues to rise. As gender norms are shifting from the archaic viewpoint of women as stay-at-home moms, there becomes a larger need for fathers to have similar benefits as women, such as paid paternal leave.
Firms, banks, and corporations have been sued over allegations that their parental leave policies disproportionately discriminate against fathers. Typically, these lawsuits tend to settle in the favor of the plaintiff. On July 17, 2018, Estée Lauder entered a settlement agreement to pay a total of $1,1 million to the class of male employees who received only two weeks of paid parental leave as compared to the six weeks paid leave that new mothers received. The court’s decree also required Estée Lauder to create parental leave policies that are equal for male and female employees, including using sex-neutral criteria, requirements, and processes. In May 2018, Estée Lauder changed its parental leave policy to give new parents, regardless of gender, 20 weeks of paid leave.
In a similar case against JPMorgan Chase Bank, a group of male employees received a $5 million nationwide settlement after alleging the Bank discriminated against new fathers in the banks’ parental leave policies. Derek Rotondo, the class representative, brought the suit against the Bank after he was denied the 16 week parental leave benefit because his wife had not gone back to work after giving birth. On top of the settlement cost, JPMorgan also consented to provide gender-neutral parental leave policies, which the company maintains as a policy.
Corporate America, including law firms, has made great strides towards gender equality within the workplace. Parental leave is one way to narrow that gender gap, by allowing men the same opportunities as women to connect with their new-born children and take care of them on paid leave. Allowing men the opportunity to have as much paid leave for a newborn child would help with gender equality because women will not be at a disadvantage to their peers because of their leave. Women will be able to focus on their child during their paid leave, without the fear that the men at her same level are forging ahead of her in their careers because the men did not take any time off when they welcomed their children into the world.
Many corporations and businesses are moving away from terms such as “maternity” and “paternity” leave because those traditional gender roles are changing. Women are not always the primary caregivers in every family. With the increase in cases against corporations regarding parental leave, it will be interesting to see how companies react and change their own specific policies to reflect the changing norms. It will also be interesting to see whether Jones Day settles with Mark Savignac and Julia Sheketoff, given the climate of parental leave cases as of late. Whether or not women and men choose to take their total parental leave is up to them. However, having the option to take such a leave allows parents to make their own decisions on how to care for their new children.
 Kellie Pantekoek, Paid Parental Leave in the U.S. vs. Other Developed Countries, FINDLAW (Apr. 10, 2020), https://employment.findlaw.com/family-medical-leave/paid-parental-leave-in-the-u-s–vs–other-developed-countries.html.
 Paid Family and Sick Leave in the U.S., KFF (Jan. 28, 2020),https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/fact-sheet/paid-family-leave-and-sick-days-in-the-u-s/#:~:text=Currently%2C%20eight%20states%20%E2%80%93%20California%2C,(plus%20D.C.)%20in%202017.
 Brief for Petitioner, Savignac v. Day, No. 19-2443, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161819 (D. D.C. Sept. 4, 2020).
 Savignac v. Day, No. 19-2443, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161819 (D. D.C. Sept. 4, 2020).
 See brief cited supra note 3 at 2.
 See supra note 3 at 2.
 See supra note 3 at 8.
 See supra note 3at 13-14.
 See supra note 3at 14.
 See supra note 3at 25.
 Patrick Dorrian and Erin Mulvaney, Jones Day Couple Can Pursue Dad Leave, Other Bias Claims, BLOOMBERG LAW (Sept. 4, 2020, 3:50 PM),https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/jones-day-couple-can-pursue-parental-leave-other-bias-claims.
 Stephen J. Brogan, Jones Day Responds to Litigation Challenging Leave Policy, JONES DAY (August 2019),https://www.jonesday.com/en/news/2019/08/jones-day-responds-to-litigation.
 Savignac v. Day, No. 19-2443, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161819, at *48 (D. D.C. Sept. 4, 2020).
 Catherine Crider, Stay-at-Home Dads: The Challenges and Benefits, PARENTHOOD (May 19, 2020),https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/stay-at-home-dad#statistics.
 Julie Steinberg and Erin Mulvaney, Jones Day Says Parental Leave Suit Fails ‘On Its Own Terms’, BLOOMBERG LAW (Oct. 18, 2019, 10:42 AM),https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/jones-day-says-parental-leave-suit-fails-on-its-own-terms.
 Press Release, U.S. Equal Emp. Opportunity Comm’n, Estée Lauder Companies to Pay $1.1 Million to Settle EEOC Class Sex Discrimination Lawsuit (Aug. 17, 2018) (on file with author).
 Genevieve Douglas, Employers on Notice After Estée Lauder Parental Leave Settlement, BLOOMBERG LAW (July 19, 2018, 8:41 AM),https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/employers-on-notice-after-estee-lauder-parental-leave-settlement.
 Kathleen Dailey, JPMorgan Dads Win $5 Million Settlement for Parental Leave Bias, BLOOMBERG LAW (Nov. 21, 2019, 4:39 PM),https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/jpmorgan-dads-win-5-million-settlement-for-parental-leave-bias.
 Id.; See also Laura Elizabeth, How Do You Keep Good Employees? Care For Their Families, OZY (Feb. 15, 2018), https://www.ozy.com/news-and-politics/how-do-you-keep-good-employees-care-for-their-families/83854/.