Law Suit: Dad Fired for Asserting His Right to Paternity Leave?

A dad alleges that his employer retaliated against him by marginalizing and then firing him after he fought for his right to take the paid parental leave the company had in its policy manual. If true, this case speaks to the real struggle for working fathers- the fear of reprisal for visibly prioritizing family.

Screencap of the April 23, 2014 article about a man suing his employer for firing him after he asserted his right to paternity leave

Screencap of the April 23, 2014 article about a man suing his employer for firing him after he asserted his right to paternity leave

I have the best readers. The other day, an FWF reader sent me an email with a link to this story from the NY Post. Here’s a quick summary:

- Tonny Uy, a former senior accountant at asmallworld.net (a social networking site for millionaires), sought paternity leave when his and his husband’s daughter was born

- He was initially rebuffed, but he then pointed out the policy in the employee handbook

- The company then agreed to the 40 days (8 weeks) paid leave (which is quite generous compared to most policies)

- After taking leave, Uy contends he was treated differently by his supervisor, and a few months later, he was told his job was being eliminated. He was replaced with a part-time employee

- He alleges asmallworld changed their employee handbook, removing the paid leave benefit for all employees a few months after he returned from his leave (kinda like Cartman?)

A few caveats are in order- the only information I have about the suit is this article, and we are only getting Uy’s side of the story. However, if the alleged facts are indeed true, this situation is disturbing to me on two levels.

First, if the company has a policy on the books, employees shouldn’t have to fight for the right to avail themselves of that policy. From this article, It is not clear if asmallworld had only a maternity leave policy or a more general parental leave policy that covered both moms and dads. Further, if a policy is on the books, it should also extend to adoptive parents (I am assuming this is the case for Uy and his husband).

Second, this case reveals the major stumbling block for dads in the workplace- the fear of stigma and career consequences if one is visible about their family concerns. Unfortunately, research shows these fears are well-founded. In my debut article at HBR last August, I reported on the work of the Flexibility Stigma Working Group at the UC Hastings College of the Law who published a series of research studies on this topic. In short, they found:

  • While men value work flexibility, they are reluctant to seek out flexible work arrangements because of fears of being seen as uncommitted and unmanly, and expectations of potential career consequences.
  • Fathers who engage in higher than average levels of childcare are subject to more workplace harassment (e.g., picked on for “not being man enough”) and more general mistreatment (e.g., garden variety workplace aggression) as compared to their low-caregiving or childless counterparts.
  • Men requesting family leave are perceived as uncommitted to work and less masculine; these perceptions are linked to lower performance evaluations, increased risks of being demoted or downsized, and reduced pay and rewards.
  • Finally, men who interrupt their employment for family reasons earn significantly less after returning to work.

If working dads face consequences or perceive that they will face them–based on company culture and supervisor attitudes–this has a chilling effect. In fact, the Boston College ‘New Dads’ study I’ve referenced many times before found that, even in white-collar companies, very few dads take offered formal paternity leave, and instead use about a week of accumulated time off (sick days, vacation) when their children are born. This is largely out of fear of negative career consequences.

Working at asmallworld.net sounds like less fun than the Disney ride (photo credit: Fotopedia/creative commons)

Working at asmallworld.net sounds like less fun than the Disney ride (photo credit: Fotopedia/creative commons)

The problem of stigma goes beyond the workplace, as well- which is why I’m so happy to see public support for paternity leave (and so chuffed when public figures disparage it). Society is not as supportive of fathers as it should be. To make change happen, guys like Uy, and Josh Levs, who have faced personal consequences for prioritizing family and are using the court system to affect change, need our support (and in the meantime, advocates like me will continue raising the issue!). On the plus side, more and more employers, and even three states are getting on board with paternity leave and supporting working dads.

However, for many dads, indeed it is still asmallworld*, and not in a good way.

What do you think about this law suit? the legal status of paternity leave? Any experiences to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section

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*and yes, that danged song was stuck in my head the entire time I wrote this article.

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10 Comments

  1. If the roles where different and this
    was a mother the outcome would obviously be different. So how can we say that we live in a society of equality? Or how can we even begin to say that women are a victim in gender roles when we live in a society thats-actually pro mothers and against the rights of fatherhood.

    Reply
    • Hi Proud Dad- when it comes to matters of parenting, I agree with you. However, I am also keenly aware of how women are discriminated against in many other ways.
      Part of why Tonny’s case is instructive is that it does highlight areas in which fatherhood and working dads’ issues are devalued.

      Reply
  2. Great article, Scott. Tonny Uy’s case is not an isolated event — discrimination against men who take family leave is a growing problem. I work as a consultant at The Center for WorkLife Law, and I have been receiving an increasing number of calls from men who believe they are being discriminated against because they have requested or taken family leave. This type of discrimination has been happening to women for years, but there is an additional issue for men. Many of the comments made to men when they are actively involved in caring for their families suggest gender discrimination based on stereotypes of males as being free of family responsibilities. Their masculinity is called into question as they are accused of doing “women’s work” by caring for family members. They are no longer seen as team players. They sometimes find themselves being punished with rotating work shifts that make childcare impossible, or with overwhelming workloads that mean they have to work excessive overtime. Like women, they are often viewed as not committed to their jobs and no longer dependable. I have received reports of social isolation, harassment, name calling, denial of promotions, demotions, loss of bonus, and termination. We are starting to see some of these complaints make their way to court, but some of the judges are having a hard time understanding the stereotyping at issue and are ruling against the men’s gender discrimination claims. (Men seem to have more success bringing claims for retaliation for taking FMLA leave, but many are not covered by the FMLA.) Tonny Uy’s complaint contains gender discrimination allegations – we’ll see how they fare.

    Reply
  3. markprof33

     /  April 30, 2014

    I think the key, as Scott highlights in this post, revolves around stigma. It seems that in many workplaces fathers are simply punished for making family-friendly choices. In my OB class I teach about perception, and the importance of how employees are viewed by their boss. Until the negative perception of fathers utilizing family-friendly options is removed, unfortunately many men will not seek paternity leave, flextime, or other such offerings. I am encouraged by the positive signs that Scott points out, but I’m also guessing that this issue will take a long time to win the “hearts and minds” of most business folks.

    Reply
    • I agree, Mark. Ultimately,change will have to come at least partially through public policy. For example, since the passage of paid parental leave for both men and women, the usage rate of paternity leave tripled.

      Reply
  4. From the way the story’s been presented, it sounds like the company may have had a parental leave policy in order to be seen as family friendly but not actually thought that anyone would try to use it.

    Reply
  1. EEOC: Parity for Maternity and Paternity Leave | Omaha Sun Times
  2. EEOC Issues Guidelines on Parity for Maternity and Paternity Leave | Fathers, Work and Family

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