Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Is the denial of paid paternity leave discriminatory?

ABCNews.com is reporting that a CNN reporter, Josh Levs, has filed an EEOC charge against Time Warner challenging its family leave policy as discriminating based on sex.

Levs, whose wife just gave birth to their third child, claims that his employer treats biological fathers differently. He claims that Time Warner’s policy permits 10 weeks of paid leave to women who give birth to children, or male and female parents following adoption or surrogacy. Biological fathers, on the other hand, are limited to two weeks of paid leave. This treatment, Levs says, discriminates against him as a man.

On his Tumblr, Levs makes a compelling argument for the unfairness of Time Warner’s policy:

If I were a woman, but other elements of my situation were the same — I was still with the same woman (so that would be a same-sex relationship), and she gave birth to our child, legally I would have to adopt in order to be co-parent. I would then have the option of 10 weeks off, paid.

Or how about this: If I gave my child up for adoption, and some other guy at Time Warner adopted her, he would get 10 weeks off, paid, to take care of her. I, however, her biological father, can’t.

The visceral reaction to a story such as Levs’s is to say, “Time Warner is treating men and women differently; therefore, it’s sex discrimination. Case closed.” The question, however, isn’t whether the policy is fair, but whether it’s legal.

There is one key difference between women and men when they welcome a new-born child. Women give birth; men don’t. A women is not medically ready to return to work the day following childbirth; a man is. Indeed, current medical guidelines suggest that women take six weeks off from work following a vaginal delivery, and eight following a C-section. Adoptions also provide different challenges to a couple, including adjusting to new family member without the buffer of a nine-month pregnancy. As Time Warner points out, its policy provides 10 weeks of paid leave, more generous than the medical standards and the FMLA’s guarantee of unpaid leave.

Yes, Time Warner’s policy can lead to absurd results in extreme situations, as Levs points out. But, before we jump the gun and lynch the company from the sex-discrimination gallows, we need to consider that there might be an explanation that justifies its policy other than discrimination.