Parental Leave Isn’t Going Away; And Neither Are Paid Leave Lawsuits

With modern work environments and millennial mindsets, paid-leave remains a competitive asset for employers and a hot topic in business.
By: | September 2, 2019

As social movements such as #MeToo have been gaining momentum in the last half-decade, so too has the attention surrounding paid leave and who should be eligible for it.

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The issue surfaced again in a recent lawsuit against Jones Day, which, according to legal news publication Above the Law, is the fifth largest law firm in the U.S. with more than 2,000 attorneys.

The plaintiffs in the case are spouses Julia Sheketoff and Mark Savignac, two former lawyers at Jones Day who welcomed their first child at the beginning of the year.

The lawsuit states that Jones Day “unlawfully denied Mr. Savignac the full leave he was entitled to after their son was born in January and that it unlawfully fired him when he complained about the policy.”

“I was shocked; we truly never considered that they would fire me,” Savignic told the New York Times. “We thought the law was so obvious.”

The couple claimed the firm’s denial was discriminatory, because it counteracted the goal of eliminating the distinction between maternity and paternity leaves, therefore emphasizing gender inequality.

Savignac claimed that by giving females an extra eight weeks of recovery time after giving birth, the firm enables men to “prioritize career over childcare,” as stated in the claim.

Despite the firm regarding the claim as biologically unsupported, Sheketoff and Savignac’s parental leave lawsuit is not the only time the famous law firm has been under scrutiny in recent months.

Jones Day was sued in April 2019 by six former female employees in reference to the company’s “fraternity culture.”

The suit claimed that Jones Day hired males and females equally but paid males higher salaries and offered them more substantial work opportunities. The suit also stated that the law firm penalizes female associates for having children and sometimes tries to push them out after they’ve given birth.

Other companies that have been plagued by scandals surrounding the paid leave debate include AT&T, Walmart and Whole Foods.

Comparably, Sweetgreen received media praise for its five months of paid maternity leave for employees — an uncommon benefit for retail companies with typically high turnover rates.

A New Type of Workforce

Baby boomers may say that a millennial push for more time off is a result of a prolonged adolescence and a technology surge, but today’s young professionals possess progressive business mindsets.

An emphasis on work-life balance is a positive thing for both mental and physical health.

However, Jones Day argued that Savignac, who was already getting 10 weeks of paid leave, was simply being self-indulgent and pushing the envelope of corporate generosity.

“Ignoring both the law and biology, Mr. Savignac and Ms. Sheketoff complain that this generous family leave policy, which is fully consistent with guidance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, perpetuates gender stereotypes because the Firm does not require birth mothers to submit medical evidence proving that childbirth has had a physical impact on them sufficient to justify disability leave,” reads a press release on the law firm’s website.

This recent call for more adequate paid leave policy, despite Jones Day’s arguments, is undoubtedly going to affect other companies and their employees’ attitudes surrounding accommodations.

By the Numbers

There are only two countries in the developed world that don’t offer paid paternal leave policies — the United States and Papua New Guinea.

On a federal level, the United States offers 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, far less generous than other national policies.

Post-partum paid parental leave is offered for 18 weeks in Chile, 16 weeks in Austria and 14 weeks in Germany.

According to Forbes, 32 of 50 U.S. states proposed paid leave legislation in 2018.

Further Reading

Risk Insider Terri Rhodes pointed out in this 2017 piece that American families are no longer subjected to a “one mom, one dad” structure, and companies such as Netflix are creating unreasonably high employee expectations by offering incentives such as one-whole year paid maternity leave.

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As discussed in this Risk & Insurance© piece, the only constant in leave trends is change. At the current rate of change, it has become nearly impossible to keep up with program variations on a state-by-state basis.

In his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump spoke about the importance of government-supported paid leave and his plans to propose improvement. Experts hope that this incentive will cause a trickle-down effect on policies.

In the meantime, an evolving modern workplace is showing that paid leave helps close gender wage gaps, retains employees, allows for succession planning and creates competition between businesses by attracting quality applicants.

No matter what happens to policies and programs, the paid leave debate proves to be a large and perplexing contradiction; how can a national system with no structure be in such dire need of flexibility? &

Emily Spennato is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]