The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit against Estée Lauder Companies, Inc., that it violated federal law when it implemented and administered a paid parental leave program that automatically provides male employees who are new fathers lesser parental leave benefits than are provided to female employees who are new mothers.

According to the suit, in 2013 Estée Lauder adopted a new parental leave program to provide employees paid leave for purposes of bonding with a new child, as well as flexible return-to-work benefits when the child bonding leave expired. Under its parental leave program, in addition to paid leave already provided to new mothers to recover from childbirth, Estée Lauder also provides eligible new mothers an additional six weeks of paid parental leave for child bonding. Estée Lauder only offers new fathers whose partners have given birth two weeks of paid leave for child bonding. The suit also alleges that new mothers are provided with flexible return-to-work benefits upon expiration of child bonding leave that are not similarly provided to new fathers.

The EEOC and Estée Lauder, in a joint filing in federal court, announced they had reached “a settlement in principle”. The two parties did not disclose terms of the proposed settlement.

As employers evaluate “family friendly benefits” such as paid parental leave, they must always consider whether these policies may unintentionally violate applicable state or federal laws. In this case the employer’s intent of providing additional leave for primary caregivers potentially ran afoul of Title VII protections against sex-based discrimination as new fathers where effectively excluded from the enhanced benefit.

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