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Jones Day Says Parental Leave Suit Fails ‘On Its Own Terms’ (1)

Oct. 18, 2019, 2:42 PM

Jones Day is continuing to stand by its parental leave policies, telling a D.C. federal court that an attorney-couple’s lawsuit is “an insubstantial quibble that fails even on its own terms.”

Husband and wife lawyers Mark Savignac and Julia Sheketoff sued in August, alleging Jones Day’s policy discriminates based on sex.

Savignac’s discharge came two weeks after their son was born and three business days after he and Sheketoff sent the firm an email complaining about gender inequity in its allowing male employees to take eight weeks less leave for the birth of a child than female employees may use, according to the lawsuit.

Jones Day asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in September to dismiss the suit, saying Savignac was fired because of “the poor judgment and immaturity” evident in his “extortionate threat” to hurt the firm’s reputation if it didn’t treat him the same as a new birth mother for parental-leave purposes.

In response, the couple said the justification Jones Day cites for giving new mothers eight more weeks of paid leave than new fathers may take “is a sham.”

Parental leave policies that exclude fathers from the same coverage as mothers have been targeted in recent years, which led to settlements with JPMorgan Chase and Estée Lauder. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 2018 settlement with Estée Lauder was over its first lawsuit that targeted a policy that gave new mothers more than time than fathers.

Paid-time off policies are grabbing attention and have been targeted as the U.S. lags behind almost all developed nations for its lack of a national policy, as well as playing a role in the imbalance of power between men and women in the workplace.

In its latest filing, Jones Day said the firm’s policy, including its use of a medically reasonable, rebuttable presumption that birth mothers have been certified disabled for eight weeks post-partum, is lawful. The plaintiffs concede that Jones Day’s family leave policy—10 weeks for primary caregivers and four weeks for secondary caregivers, regardless of sex—is sex-neutral and lawful, the firm’s Oct. 17 filing said.

According to the firm, the plaintiffs challenge the short-term disability policy by saying that instead of offering leave to birth mothers equal to the length of their post-partum disability and then excusing them from providing evidence of a disability for the first eight weeks after the birth, Jones Day offers eight weeks of disability leave as the benefit.

Those two regimes are “identical in all relevant and practical respects,” Jones Day said.

And the operative terms of Jones Day’s disability policy track what the plaintiffs acknowledge is lawful—that routine childbirth results in a standard four- to eight-week period of disability and new mothers need not provide evidence of disability for the first eight weeks after giving birth, the firm said.

Additionally, Savignac’s demand for 18 weeks’ paid leave was unreasonable and his email complaining about alleged bias wasn’t protected activity, Jones Day said.

Jones Day also reiterated that Sheketoff’s sex discrimination claims concerning her pay and performance should be dismissed. She left the firm shortly before giving birth.

Savignac and Sheketoff represent themselves. Jones Day represents itself. The parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The case is Savignac v. Jones Day, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-02443, reply memorandum 10/17/19.

To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bloomberglaw.com; Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com

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