For decades, women who believed their employers had punished them with lower wages and missed promotions after they had become mothers have been filing gender discrimination complaints and bringing lawsuits.
Now, as men shoulder more responsibilities at home, they are increasingly taking legal action against employers who they say refuse to accommodate their roles as fathers.
“The huge thing that’s changed only in about the past five years is suddenly men feel entitled to take time off for family,” said Joan C.Williams, of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. “They’re willing to put their careers on the line to live up to that idea. It’s revolutionary.”
Just last month, CNN and Turner Broadcasting quietly settled an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge with a former CNN correspondent, Josh Levs, who claimed that the company’s paid parental leave policy discriminated against biological fathers.
At the time Levs’ daughter was born, in October of 2013, CNN offered 10 weeks of paid leave to biological mothers and the same amount to parents of either gender who adopted children or relied on surrogates. By contrast, the company offered two weeks of paid leave to biological fathers.
Levs, whose daughter was born five weeks prematurely, already had two young children. He said he felt he needed to spend more time at home sharing in caregiving responsibilities with his wife. He filed his charge when the company refused to grant him more paid time off.
Levs is prevented from disclosing what he received under the settlement, but he confirms that CNN and Turner Broadcasting will provide additional paid time off to some other biological fathers who took paternity leave before January 2015. The company’s current policy — which went into effect this year — gives six weeks of paid caregiving leave to all new parents. Biological mothers receive another six weeks of leave, and more if they have additional medical needs.
“Turner is a recognized leader because of its family-friendly policies,” the company said in a statement. “CNN is pleased Mr. Levs feels that his concerns have been addressed and has withdrawn his EEOC charge.”
Levs’ is the latest in a recent string of cases brought by fathers against their employers over conflicts relating to family responsibilities.
The law firm Dechert settled a case in 2013 that was brought by Ariel Ayanna, a former lawyer, who said he faced retaliation from supervisors, who withheld work and ultimately fired him, after he took a leave that was covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act in 2008. He said that one reason for his leave was to help care for his wife, who was suicidal while pregnant.
In his complaint, Ayanna cited a “macho” culture that “encourages male associates and partners to fulfill the stereotypical male role of ceding family responsibilities to women.”
The cases come against the backdrop of a societal shift in which many fathers are working less and spending more time with their children. A recent Pew Research Center analysis reported that between 1965 and 2011,fathers reduced the number of hours they devoted to paid work to about 37 from 42 each week on average and increased the number of hours they devoted to child care each week to about seven from 2.5.
The earlier cases that have been settled appear to have encouraged more fathers to seek legal remedies.
Rebecca G. Pontikes, who represented Ayanna,said she had received inquiries from other lawyers.
“They talk to me about bringing suits they have on behalf of male caregivers,” she said. “It has not been without effect.”
Even companies that have adopted legally defensible official policies may still face legal action. In a study reported this year in the journal Organization Science, Erin Reid, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Boston University, who gained access to workers in a large consulting firm, uncovered numerous instances in which fathers were discouraged from adjusting their schedules to accommodate parental responsibilities, coupled with a kind of disbelief that they would even entertain the idea.
“Men experienced more overt discrimination, hostility,” Reid said.
Experts say the issue goes beyond unequal treatment of men and women to a question of the trade-off between work and family. By discouraging men from taking child rearing seriously, they say, employers can effectively add to the workplace stigma of women who shoulder these responsibilities.