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Time Warner-EEOC Settlement Provides a Cautionary Tale to Employers Who Provide Mothers More Parental Leave Than Fathers

I recently read in the NY Times that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled a charge with Time Warner, Inc., the parent company of CNN and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. where a former employee alleged that Time Warner’s parental leave policy discriminated against him as a biological father.  I encourage employers to read the article, as it reemphasizes the shifting attitudes in this country on family-friendly leave policies, and from a legal perspective, it serves as yet another reminder that employers should review their parental leave policies to make sure they are up to date and do not discriminate against fathers.

The Time Warner policy provided birth mothers and adoptive parents with 10 weeks of paid time off after childbirth or adoption, but only provided biological fathers with 2 weeks.  While the settlement terms were not disclosed, we do know that Time Warner had previously voluntarily changed its parental leave policy.  Now, all parents – birth mothers, biological fathers, and adoptive mothers and fathers – receive 6 weeks of paid leave following childbirth or adoption.  The new policy also provides birth mothers with the ability to take paid short-term disability leave.

Time Warner’s new policy highlights the importance of implementing leave policies that separate and distinguish parental leave from leave for pregnancy and childbirth related medical conditions.  The EEOC’s pregnancy discrimination enforcement guidance advises: “Leave related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions can be limited to women affected by those conditions.  However, parental leave must be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms.  If, for example, an employer extends leave to new mothers beyond the period of recuperation from childbirth (e.g. to provide the mothers time to bond with and/or care for the baby), it cannot lawfully fail to provide an equivalent amount of leave to new fathers for the same purpose.”

To avoid becoming the next company in the news for discriminating against fathers, employers should closely examine their parental leave policies to ensure that mothers are not treated more favorably than fathers.  If any differences are found, employers should strongly consider revising their leave policies so that parental leave is provided in the same amount to all parents.

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Alta Ray