My attorneys have filed an EEOC charge on my behalf against Time Warner over an offensive and discriminatory policy.
Under Time Warner rules, all parents of new children have the option of 10 paid weeks off — except biological fathers.
For more than two months — beginning when my wife and I knew I’d need to be home after our daughter’s birth — I have pushed and pleaded for that policy to change. I brought the issue all the way up to the top of the company. But Time Warner has refused to change the policy.
Under Time Warner rules, I have only two choices: stay out for 10 weeks without pay, or return to work and hire someone to come to our home each day. Neither is financially tenable, and the fact that only biological dads face this choice at this point in a newborn’s life is ludicrous.
Time Warner has two policies that create this discriminatory result. The first: Women who give birth get 10 weeks off, paid. The second: Women or men who have babies through adoption or surrogacy have the option of 10 weeks off, paid, to be caregivers to their new children.
But under no circumstances can a biological father get 10 weeks off paid, even if he is needed for caregiving. We get two weeks of paid parental leave.
(If there’s an adoptive couple in which both parents work for Time Warner, they can divvy up the 12 weeks as they wish, with neither taking more than 10.)
With my first two children, I just dealt with this unfair policy. But this time, I can’t sit by and allow this inequality. It’s unfair to my wife and family, and to other dads and their families.
I began this effort in August, praising Time Warner for trying to be inclusive, and suggesting that it had arrived at this unfair policy unintentionally, not realizing that it was making biological dads the only parents excluded from the option of 10 weeks paid.
In asking for this policy to change, I followed protocols, and operated with total confidentiality.
I kept pushing for an answer, and emphasizing that my team at work needed to know how long I would be out so it could plan accordingly. And I kept getting the same response: that no decision had been reached.
Finally, after I pushed yet again, Time Warner rejected my request last week — 11 days after my child was born, while I was already out taking care of her.
My attorneys were shocked.
I brought the issue to our CEO, who kindly said he would look into it. But then Time Warner’s legal department informed us that the policy would not be changed.
To understand how misguided this policy is, think of the following scenarios.
Here’s one an attorney gave me: If I were a woman, but other elements of my situation were the same — I was still with the same woman (so that would be a same-sex relationship), and she gave birth to our child, legally I would have to adopt in order to be co-parent. I would then have the option of 10 weeks off, paid.
Or how about this: If I gave my child up for adoption, and some other guy at Time Warner adopted her, he would get 10 weeks off, paid, to take care of her. I, however, her biological father, can’t.
I have tried repeatedly to get Time Warner to see the light of day on this, but the company refuses.
Make no mistake: The policy is discriminatory. The only question is whether it’s a legal form of discrimination.
Some forms of discrimination are legal. For example, a company could say that all people with names beginning with A through H and J through Z get 10 weeks paid, but not someone whose name begins with I. That would be just as preposterous as what Time Warner is doing. That, however, would be a legal form of discrimination, because people with names beginning with I are not a “protected class.”
I’m fortunate to have fantastic attorneys, in the legal team of Lee Parks. They’ll explain our legal arguments as to why Time Warner should be forced to change this policy.
But this isn’t just about the law. It’s about doing what’s right.
And that’s why I’ve had to go public with this.
Trust me — it’s the last thing I want to be doing right now. Imagine the hectic life of having a third child be born, and then add this hassle and stress. It’s especially unfair to my wife, who, by the way, carried out another one of her amazing, heroic deliveries (though in a hospital, unlike last time!).
But my two weeks of paid leave have run out. I’m now using up several days of my own “PTO,” or paid time off. (At Time Warner, there is no distinction between vacation days and sick days; there’s a general pile of PTO days.) If Time Warner doesn’t change its mind, I will have to go back to work next week, unfairly forced to choose between the two untenable options.
Throughout all this, no one at Time Warner has argued with me on the merits of my request, nor presented any suggestion that there’s anything wrong with what I’m asking for.
The company gave no explanation in rejecting my request last week, saying only that it was “unable” to grant it. That’s obviously false. Time Warner is able to, but chose not to.
The moment it did that, this issue stopped being a possible oversight that the company could have resolved quietly. It became an active, deliberate decision to discriminate.
I’m not giving up without a fight.
My only remaining hope is that after I post this, other people who also believe in fairness and equality will speak up and encourage Time Warner to do the right thing. A legal battle may drag on forever; my daughter and family need me now.
So, in consultation with my attorneys, I’m exercising my First Amendment rights, and speaking out.
In addition to my reporting at CNN, I also write columns and speak on air about my own experiences with and views on issues facing fathers. Sometimes, that has meant calling out corporations for doing things that are unfair to dads. This time around it’s my experience, and the parent company of my employer, front and center.
Of course this isn’t easy. I’m one person, taking on a massive and powerful corporation.
But I don’t want my children to grow up in a world in which people accept discrimination without a fight. As I tweeted (and posted on Facebook) the other day, especially when it isn’t easy, you have to do what you know is right for the world, your family, and yourself.
I look into my daughter’s beautiful new eyes and know where I need to be.
It’s a feeling many other dads know. And it’s heartbreaking to think that I could lose this critical bonding time with her.
This fight will probably be seen as a sign of the times and the battle for fathers’ rights in general. That’s fair and legit. But it’s also more than that. This is about equality and fairness for everyone.
And it’s about the ability of any individual to stand up to an unfair policy by a massive corporation that impacts his or her family.
Nothing fuels you to fight for what’s right like the love you have for your child.
As I say all the time in my talks and on social media, we can do better. We can improve this world. The people who do so are the ones who stand up, ready to break unfair systems and build better ones. (I call it “Be the Cups and Ice.” See my TEDx Talk or a talk I did for young people, “Shine.”)
You just have to summon the courage.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
requests @ joshlevs.com
p.s. Everyone asking for photos - see some public ones on my Google+ page.
Statement from A. Lee Parks, Senior Partner at Parks, Chesin & Walbert:
“When you’re dealing with Paternity Leave policies, the current thinking is that there needs to be equity between what you give a father and a mother. There can be some disparity, but the disparity here is too great. Giving a mother 10 weeks and a father two weeks is gender-based and violates Title VII.
“The fact that adoptive fathers, or those who have children through surrogacy, get more time doesn’t help the policy — it further erodes the legality of it. It’s evidence that substantiates the irrationality of the policy.”
Statement from Andrew Coffman, Partner at Parks, Chesin & Walbert:
“Many employers may think they are being in-tune with the times by providing enhanced benefits to certain new parents. Here, this translates into providing paid time off to mothers and adoptive parents, but not to biological fathers. Time Warner’s excuse for treating biological fathers differently than mothers is that women experience a period of medical disability associated with child birth. While this sounds reasonable at first blush, the rationale does not square with the 10 weeks given to adoptive parents who require no medical recovery time. Moreover, biological mothers receive the 10 weeks of maternity leave IN ADDITION to their full short-term disability benefits. Biological fathers do not receive a similar allowance for their medical disabilities. Taken as a whole, the benefits extended to men appear to be inferior to those given to women.”
Contact: (404)873-8000 ACoffman@pcwlawfirm.com
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