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Estée Lauder are being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for giving new mothers more paid leave for care giving and child-bonding than new fathers.

If the lawsuit is successful, it could alter common parental leave policies in the U.S.

On Aug.30, the EEOC alleged in their lawsuit that Estée Lauder Companies Inc. infringed federal law by giving female employees who are new mothers more parental leave benefits than male employees who are new fathers. 

In addition to the paid leave provided to new mothers to recover from childbirth, Estée Lauder provides new mothers with six additional weeks of paid parental leave for child bonding. New fathers receive two weeks of paid leave for child bonding. The lawsuit - filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia - also alleges that new mothers are provided with flexible return-to-work benefits that are not similarly provided to new fathers.

The EEOC asserts that this policy violates the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibit discrimination in pay or benefits based on sex.

The agency began the case after Christopher Sullivan, a stock worker at a Maryland store, requested six weeks of leave for the birth of his child - but was only granted two.  Mr. Sullivan informed Estee Lauder that he would be the child’s primary caregiver, but he was told that the company only applied the primary caregiver title in surrogacy situations. Estee Lauder’s parental care policy was implemented in 2013 and provides primary caregivers six weeks of paid parental leave.  Fathers at Estée Lauder are eligible for secondary caregiver leave only. 

The EEOC's lawsuit against Estée Lauder is the most recent to be brought against a company for having different parental-leave policies for their female and male staff.  In June, a male fraud investigator at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. alleged that the bank discriminated against him, saying that fathers were denied equal paid parental leave with mothers.

Supporters of equal paid leave say that the imbalance reinforces traditional gender roles by encouraging new mothers to stay at home and discouraging fathers from taking time off to care for a new child.

Mindy Weinstein, Acting Director of the EEOC’s Washington field office praised Estee Lauder for its parental leave policy and flexible work arrangements which were great in their intent.  However, she added,  “… federal law requires equal pay for equal work, and that applies to men as well as women.”