America has a long way to go when we’re talking about paid family and medical leave. We have one of the least impressive maternity leave situations in the world, leaving many new mothers little choice but to leave their newborns alone in order to return to work.
Some companies are choosing to offer paternity leave, so dads can stay home to be a support system for at least a few weeks, and maybe even bond with their children during that time, too.
Other companies are firing new dads who try to do the right thing by their families, and get this – federal judges are agreeing they have the right to do just that.
Steven Van Soeren, a product designer at Disney Streaming Services, said that he was harassed by his coworkers after revealing his wife was pregnant, and was then fired after returning from two weeks of paternity leave.
He claimed a “pattern and practice of discrimination” that began around when his wife got pregnant and included insults, lower pay than he was promised, and even his home computer being hacked.
U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald sided with Disney, which argued that pregnancy discrimination laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act “only provide protection to a pregnant employee,” not to an employee whose wife is pregnant.
Being a new parent doesn’t fall under protection; it only matters if you’re the one who gave birth.
She also dismissed his claim under the New York City Human Rights Law on the same grounds, and ruled against him on his Family and Medical Leave Act claim, too, because he was allowed to take the paternity leave “without incident.”
Advocates see this as a sign that lawmakers in each state need to make sure that soon-to-be-dads are protected from workplace discrimination. The ruling could certainly affect how fathers everywhere choose to use – or not use – the leave they’re afforded.
Van Soeren said that HR was “distant” and “disinterested” when he reported the hacking, his boss telling him he “shouldn’t have a kid,” and even being doused in baby powder. They informed him he could resign, and when he did not, he was terminated without cause and without a severance package.
While it certainly sounds like a case of an employer discriminating against an employee because of their parental status, the facts are that the laws don’t exist on the books to protect fathers and fathers-to-be.
Something else that needs to change in this country – the sooner the better.