U.S. agency sues Estee Lauder Companies over parental leave policy

(Reuters) - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing Estee Lauder Companies Inc of discriminating against men by giving them less paid parental leave than women.

The commission said in the lawsuit filed in Philadelphia federal court that the cosmetics company gave women six weeks of paid leave for “child bonding,” while new fathers received two weeks

Female employees were also given more flexible arrangements when they returned to work, the commission said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said the company violated federal laws prohibiting sex bias in the workplace and requiring that men and women be paid equally for equal work.

Megan Schaefer, a spokeswoman for New York City-based Estee Lauder, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Mindy Weinstein, acting director of the EEOC’s Washington field office, said in a statement that it was “wonderful” for companies to provide paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements.

“But federal law requires equal pay for equal work, and that applies to men as well as women,” she said.

EEOC spokeswoman Kimberly Smith-Brown said the Estee Lauder case appeared to be commission’s first to challenge a company’s parental leave policy.

The EEOC said the case stemmed from a complaint filed by Christopher Sullivan, a stock worker at an Estee Lauder retail store in Maryland who requested six weeks of paid leave in 2015 when his child was born, and was granted two weeks.

In 2013 the company adopted a policy giving six weeks of leave to new mothers and “primary caregivers” and two weeks to “secondary caregivers.”

Sullivan told the company that he would be the primary caregiver to his child, but according to the lawsuit the company said that designation only applied in “surrogacy situations.”

The EEOC wants a judge to order the company to change its policy, and is seeking backpay and compensatory damages for Sullivan and other male workers.

The case is EEOC v. Estee Lauder Companies Inc, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 2:17-cv-03897.

Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi