A gender discrimination lawsuit filed by a male employee will benefit women, too.

One of the largest banks in the world just settled a gender discrimination lawsuit — that was filed by men.

JPMorgan Chase agreed Thursday to pay $5 million to a group of male employees who were discouraged from taking 16 weeks of paid parental leave to care for a new child, according to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the organizations that brought the class action lawsuit on the employees’ behalf.

It’s the first class action settlement stemming from a lawsuit by a male employee claiming that fathers were denied certain parental leave benefits because of their gender.

On paper, JPMorgan’s paid parental leave policy was generous and didn’t seem problematic. It offered 16 weeks of paid leave for a new child’s primary caregiver and two weeks off for secondary caregivers. But in practice, fathers who tried to take up to 16 weeks off as primary caregivers were discouraged by managers and told the company considers mothers the main caregivers, according to the settlement filed Thursday in an Ohio federal court.

Derek Rotondo, a fraud investigator and security expert for JPMorgan, filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in July 2017, shortly after the birth of his second child. Rotondo said he had asked for 14 weeks off as the child’s primary caregiver, but human resources staff told him that “birth mothers are what we consider as the primary caregivers.”

According to Rotondo, an HR rep said that, as a father, Rotondo needed to prove that his wife had returned to work for him to get more than two weeks of paid leave.

Because Rotondo’s wife is a schoolteacher and already had the summer off, Rotondo couldn’t prove that, and ended up taking several weeks of unpaid leave. So he filed the complaint with the EEOC.

Lawyers for JPMorgan have since granted him 16 weeks off and reached a settlement to compensate all other fathers who were denied extended paid leave between 2011 and 2017. The company also agreed to make sure that both men and women can take the longer leave benefit offered to a baby’s primary caregiver.

“We expect this settlement will have a ripple effect,” Galen Sherwin, a senior attorney for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, told me in an email. “It will put other companies on notice that they need to take a hard look at their own parental leave policies to ensure that they are not only gender neutral on their face, but also are implemented in a way that neither encourages nor discourages people to use it based on their gender.”

It may seem odd for a women’s rights group to work on a case involving a group of men. But it makes sense: Discouraging men from taking parental leave impacts women’s careers, too.

Gender stereotypes about motherhood harm women at work

One of the most interesting parts of Rotondo’s complaint argues that JPMorgan’s parental leave policy discriminates not only against men, but also against women.

“It relies upon and enforces a sex-based stereotype that women are and should be caretakers of children, and that women do and should remain at home to care for a child following that child’s birth,” the complaint reads, “while men are not and should not be caretakers and instead do and should return to work shortly after the birth of their child.”

It’s no secret that mothers often face serious gender and pay discrimination directly. Research has shown that one of the main reasons women earn less than men is because of what is called the “motherhood penalty.” Moms are more likely to be shut out of high-paying jobs because certain industries reward workers who put in long hours, which is harder for women to do if they are viewed as primary caregivers. That’s also one reason why they are less likely to get promoted after they have a child.

And in some competitive industries, taking several months off work literally impacts a women’s earnings. At law firms, for example, that means mothers taking time off are logging fewer billable hours than their male colleagues.

Any policy that would discourage men from taking the same amount of time off has implications for women, too. That’s why the settlement against JPMorgan is so significant.

The risk of a lawsuit goes a long way in encouraging companies to follow the law, and in doing so, could help reshape American workplace culture so that it no longer punishes women who become mothers.

Author: Alexia Fernández Campbell

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