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More American men clamor for paternity leave: ‘A father shouldn’t have to be lucky to form a bond with his child’

Jul 26, 2019 / News Item / MarketWatch — Andrew Keshner

Michael Jenks was ready for the ribbing from male co-workers as he prepared to take off three months in 2016, ahead of his son’s birth.

Older male bosses congratulated him. “They wished they could have taken more time. They have hindsight,” the 40-year-old Anchorage, Al. resident said. It was the childless co-worker in his late 20’s who cracked, “’Why are you doing that? The baby just sits there.’”

Chad R. MacDonald didn’t get gentle teasing. His bosses laughed at his request for time off, days after his wife’s March 2013 emergency C-section. “We’re not f-----g doing that. You want to take time, work it out. But we’re not f-----g paying you,” MacDonald recalled them saying. That was a turning point and, months later, the New York City resident, 49, left his appraisal job at the New York City collectibles store.

For all the men like Jenks, there are also men like MacDonald, and even men like Derek Rotondo, who sued his employer, JPMorgan Chase JPM, +0.25%, for its alleged refusal to give fathers like him 16 weeks of primary care-giver status because of their sex.

That case’s recent proposed $5 million class-action settlement is thought to be the largest sum ever in a parental leave lawsuit. The firm will set up a compensation fund for approximately 5,000 fathers who did not receive adequate paternity leave in the past. An Ohio federal judge still needs to give final approval on the settlement. He gave preliminary approval in June. 

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The JPMorgan Chase paternity leave case was a milestone

When his first son was born in 2015, Rotondo, who works as an associate an investigator in JPMorgan Chase’s Global Security and Investigations, took one week of paid parental leave and one week of accrued time. A year later, JPMorgan expanded its policy, bumping primary care-giver leave from 12 to 16 weeks and non-primary care from one to two weeks.

A human resources representative told Rotondo that mothers were the presumptive primary care givers unless the father showed certain criteria.

Rotondo said he was missing the 16-week leave because of his sex. He filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination complaint, Rotondo received the 16-week leave and the sides announced the proposed settlement two years later.

JP Morgan isn’t admitting liability and Rotondo’s lawyers acknowledge 16 weeks is a generous amount.

Peter Romer-Friedman, one of Rotondo’s lawyers, said his firm has received up to 70 calls from fathers since news of the settlement last May. A number of the men said they were being pressured not to take advantage of their leave or punished for taking time off, said Romer-Friedman, who is counsel at Outten & Golden, an employment law firm with offices in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

His firm usually gets up to 10 calls a year from fathers with complaints about paternity leave, Romer-Friedman said.

“I’m heartened by all the people reaching out, wanting to learn more about their rights and enforce their rights,” Romer-Friedman said. “But I’m not surprised. I think a lot of men didn’t know of their right to equal parental leave.”

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