Big Bank Settles Claims That It Discriminated Against Men

JPMorgan Chase on Thursday agreed to pay $5 million to settle charges that its paid parental leave policy discriminated against men.

The money will be divided up among any male employees at the bank who were denied or discouraged from taking “primary caregiver” leave from 2011 to 2017.

The class action case was initiated two years ago by Derek Rotondo, a fraud investigator working in the bank’s Columbus, Ohio, office. He had asked for the 16 weeks of paid time off that JPMorgan started offering primary caretakers in 2016.

The bank turned him down, essentially, because he wasn’t a woman. Rotondo said he was told he must prove that his wife was incapacitated or had to go back to work. But his wife, a schoolteacher, was fine ― she was actually home for the summer. As a nonprimary caretaker in the eyes of his employer, Rotondo was eligible for just two weeks off.

“Derek was told moms are primary caregivers and you can’t be one,” said Galen Sherwin, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union who represented Rotondo.

JPMorgan said its policy was always meant to be gender neutral. Indeed, soon after Rotondo filed his claim, the bank gave him his 16 weeks off.

In the settlement announced Thursday, the bank also agreed to train those administering the policy to ensure that men and women were treated equally.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement in this matter and look forward to more effectively communicating the policy so that all men and women employees are aware of their benefits,” Reid Broda, associate general counsel at the bank, said in a statement. “We thank Mr. Rotondo for bringing the matter to our attention.”

Getting those weeks at home with his baby son was immensely valuable, Rotondo told HuffPost this week.

“I am a baby whisperer,” he said, explaining that he honed his parenting skills in those first crucial months.

These days when 2-year-old Lincoln wakes up in the middle of the night, Rotondo said he can easily coax the toddler back to sleep. It’s an art he started learning during that 16-week parental leave, when he shared nighttime duties with his wife. It’s something he wasn’t able to pull off after his first son was born and he had to go back to work after just a week.

“This time I wasn’t worried about having to go to work on no sleep,” said Rotondo.

Thousands of other male employees at the bank were helped by Rotondo’s lawsuit, said Peter Romer-Friedman, counsel at Outten & Golden, who also represented him. 

Many reached out after Rotondo filed his complaint, Romer-Friedman said. They all thanked Rotondo for raising the issue.

“If people like Derek don’t stand up for themselves and other workers, you don’t have progress,” the lawyer said. “It’s a hard thing to do.”

It’s not yet clear how many men at the bank will seek to share in the $5 million damages. Their payouts could range between $837 and $5,862, depending on how many come forward, Sherwin said.

Derek Rotondo with his newborn son Lincoln in 2017.

The settlement is a much-needed acknowledgment that both men and women today are responsible for parenting at home. “It’s a win for everyone,” Rotondo told HuffPost. “If you say women get this long and men get this long, you’re sort of promoting the way we’ve done business for a long time, where it’s a woman’s job to stay at home, have babies and cook. I don’t think that’s very effective in our time.”

Even though JPMorgan is vowing to apply its policy in a gender-neutral way, it plans to continue offering different amounts of leave to primary and nonprimary parents ― 16 weeks for the former and six weeks for the latter. 

It’s up to the employee to tell the company if they’re the primary or nonprimary caregiver ― and they must sign an attestation to that fact. The same policy applies to same-sex parents and adoptive parents.

That differentiation between parents is problematic, said Josh Levs, a former CNN correspondent who sued the media outlet’s parent company over its unequal leave policies. That case settled in 2015 and the company changed its policy.

“There’s no longer such a thing as a primary caregiver in most families,” said Levs, who went on to write a book, “All In,” about the stigma men face in the workplace when they try to take paternity leave. Forcing men to specify that they’re a primary parent can make it “worse” for them in the workplace, he said.

“Men have been fired, demoted, lost job opportunities for taking leave, seeking a flexible schedule,” Levs said. “These stigmas are incredibly powerful,” he added.

Other companies, including JPMorgan competitor Bank of America, have policies that don’t differentiate between types of parents. Specifically offering women more parental leave than men ― beyond what’s needed to recover from childbirth ― does violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014, after Levs filed his case.

Three years later, the EEOC sued Estee Lauder for giving fathers just two weeks of bonding leave instead of the six it offered to mothers. The company settled for $1.1 million.

More companies have started offering gender-neutral leave policies. By the end of 2018, 72 percent of the companies surveyed by the advocacy group Paid Leave for the United States offered gender-neutral policies. When the group first started tracking this data at the largest companies in 2017, only one-quarter of firms did.

“There’s a recognition that the idea in any household that there’s a primary or secondary caregiver is just really outdated today,” said Meshal DeSantis, a spokesperson for PL+US.

The ACLU has long pursued cases involving gender discrimination against men, dating back to the days when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was running the group’s Women’s Rights Project, which she founded in 1972.

“Her belief was that women couldn’t achieve equality until men took on a more equal role at home,” said Sherwin, who is a senior staff attorney at the Women’s Rights Project today.

“Sometimes it does require bringing a man to court to advance women’s rights,” said Romer-Friedman.

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