BUSINESS
06/15/2017 11:07 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2017

Why This Dad Is Fighting JPMorgan Chase For Equal Parental Leave

The bank's policy gives new dads just two weeks off, then it's back to the office.

A father in Ohio who works for JPMorgan Chase says the bank discriminates against men by giving new mothers 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and fathers two weeks of paternity leave.

Chase isn’t explicit about gender in its leave policy, but assumptions and stereotypes about men and women underlie its implementation, according to Derek Rotondo, who filed his complaint against the bank on Thursday with the EEOC.

The bank gives “primary caretakers” 16 weeks off after the arrival of a child. All other new parents get just two weeks. The problem is that only male employees are asked to provide proof they are “primary caretakers,” says Rotondo, who works as a fraud investigator at the bank.

The underlying assumption of Chase’s policy appears to be that male employees need to get back to work after babies are born, while female employees must stay home longer. Rotondo and his lawyers say the policy violates federal civil rights law and want Chase to change it. They’re also asking the bank to pay damages to male employees who’ve been denied equal leave.

“What could be the reason, other than a stereotype, to tell a father that he is not presumptively considered a primary caretaker but women are,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a counsel at Outten and Golden who is representing Rotondo along with the American Civil Liberties Union. “It is sending a message that women should stay at home and take care of the children and men should immediately get back to work.”

A representative from JPMorgan Chase said the bank just received the complaint and is reviewing it.

Derek Rotondo with his newborn son.
Courtesy Derek Rotondo
Derek Rotondo with his newborn son.

The United States has long moved past a time when men were the primary breadwinners and women were the primary caretakers. Yet in much of corporate America, that’s still the prevailing assumption.

Most employers in the U.S. that offer paid parental leave give women far more time than men and adoptive parents. Less than one-quarter of the 44 largest employers in the U.S. provide equal amounts of paid parental leave to their employees, according to a new survey released Thursday by the nonprofit advocacy group Paid Leave for the United States. Eight companies provide no leave at all to men, according to the report.

“This sends a clear message that executives at those companies believe that parenting should primarily be a woman’s job,” said Brianna Cayo Cotter, chief of staff at Paid Leave U.S. Modern companies understand that all parents need equal time to bond with their new children, and parental leave policies must reflect that.”

The U.S. is one of only a handful of countries in the world that doesn’t mandate some kind of paid maternity leave policy. That puts corporate policies under an even more intense microscope.

More claims like Rotondo’s are likely on the way, said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Companies should be on notice,” she said. “This type of policy is unlawful. It’s anachronistic and it doesn’t meet the needs of families today.” It’s also a liability, she added.

Rotondo’s wife gave birth to a baby boy just nine days ago, but he has to be back at work on Monday. He tried to get the full 16 weeks of primary caregiver leave, but because Rotondo’s wife is a special education teacher and home for the summer, he couldn’t prove he was the primary caretaker. His leave request was denied. (If the baby arrived in September ― and his wife had to be back at work ― it’s possible he would’ve had a shot.)

If he were a female employee, he wouldn’t have had to go through that step.

“I want to be here to bond with my new son,” said Rotondo, who also took two weeks off after his oldest son was born two years ago. “I feel like I missed a lot. There are so many little things that develop quickly with infants.”

It’s appropriate to have a disparity between biological mothers and fathers. That’s not what’s happening here. Peter Romer-Friedman, who is representing Rotondo with the ACLU

It is not illegal or discriminatory to offer birth mothers more time to recover from childbirth. Many employers have policies that offer birth mothers designated medical leave and then provide parents with more caregiving leave.

“It’s appropriate to have a disparity between biological mothers and fathers. That’s not what’s happening here,” Romer-Friedman said. 

Other companies, like Bank of America, simply offer all parents the same amount of leave. New moms and dads there get 16 weeks off.

But at JPMorgan Chase, fathers have to go through a process to be deemed primary caregivers. Fathers at Chase who want the full leave time have to show that their spouse or partner has returned to work, or that they are the spouse or partner of a mother who is medically incapable of providing care, according to the EEOC complaint.

The father, then, is a sort of caretaker of last resort. Women who work at the bank are presumed to be primary caregivers.

Rotondo isn’t the first man to challenge an unfair paid leave policy. A few years ago, Josh Levs filed a claim against Time Warner for not treating all fathers the same. Rotondo does appear to be breaking new ground in challenging his employer’s primary caretaker designation.

The unequal policies keep fathers from gaining ground at home, where they’re now trying to show up as equal parenting partners. “It’s completely appropriate and desirable for a father like Derek to be the primary caregiver and it should be encouraged by a company,” Romer-Friedman says.

An unequal policy doesn’t just mean that men lose needed bonding time. It also holds women back in the workplace, where there is still a huge imbalance between the genders ― men outnumber women in top corporate positions, and women are still underpaid.

Part of this has to do with how women are still often “mommy-tracked” ― held back from promotions and advancement because their company believes they’ll have more responsibilities to tend to at home. In countries where the law guarantees more leave time for women, companies are less likely to hire or promote women.

Rotondo, for his part, believes its time to stop slotting men and women into outdated roles.

“I can do all of the traditional manly man things. I can drop a tree with a chainsaw and I know how to fish. There’s nothing wrong with me also knowing how to be a really good dad,” Rotondo said.That’s something important for everybody to have in their minds these days. No longer are there things that men do and things that women do. That’s not where we are as a society.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that Rotondo is not the first man to file a claim against his employer over unfair leave policies. He is the first, however, to challenge a policy for discriminating in its delineation of primary and secondary caregiver.

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