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Can men be fired for taking paternity leave?

Generally, the answer would seem to be no. However, a recent case cast some doubt on that.

Earlier this year, Steven van Soeren, a product designer for Disney, was fired shortly after he took two weeks of paternity leave. Citing examples of anti-parent bias, van Soeren sued his former employer under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. A federal judge ruled that he wasn’t protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act because it was not he who had been pregnant.

Putting aside whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ought to cover fathers, there are other theories under which firing someone for taking paternity leave would be illegal.

First, it could be considered unlawful gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If mothers are given paid parental leave by a company, there is a solid argument that fathers must be given that leave, as well.

Second, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees new parents up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave. This is clearly available to both fathers and mothers. Covered employers cannot legally deny FMLA leave for new biological or adoptive parents, along with caregivers in many other situations. They also can’t retaliate against someone who takes this leave.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that denying paternity leave is sex discrimination. When men are denied paternity leave or discouraged from taking it, the court ruled, it “created a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination that forced women to continue to assume the role of primary family caregiver.”

Earlier this year, Senator Cory Booker introduced a bill that would protect all family caregivers from job discrimination.

Caregiver discrimination matters now more than ever

Due to the pandemic, many women have found themselves in the position of caring for children during the work day because schools have been closed. This has caused record numbers of women to drop out of the workforce, and it may take decades to regain the degree of equality women have enjoyed over the past few decades.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that “women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

That can’t happen if men can be fired for taking a couple weeks of paternity leave. That can’t happen when caregiving responsibilities are penalized by employers.

If you have questions about your rights as a parent or caregiver, contact Leigh Law Group.