The macho man image is dying in the workplace. Tresa Baldas writes in The National Law Journal
Employment and family law attorneys say a growing number of men are filing a wide variety of workplace lawsuits, suing over everything from more leave time to care for their children to sexual harassment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that in 2007 it saw a record number of sexual harassment complaints filed by men. Men accounted for a record 16 percent of all sexual harassment complaints, nearly double the 9 percent figure in the early 1990s.
On the parental leave front, lawyers note, a growing number of men are filing Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claims, many of them single dads with more responsibilities at home. Others are simply asserting their desires to spend more time with their children.
Lawyers are calling this a byproduct of the father’s rights movement.
“Without question, it’s the next step. It’s an expansion of fathers in the court system seeking their parental rights. Now they’re asserting their rights with respect to the labor laws,” said family law attorney and longtime father’s rights advocate Sari Friedman of Garden City, N.Y.
Employee rights attorney Charles Siedlecki of Chicago’s Charles Siedlecki & Associates is currently representing several men pursing FMLA claims, some claiming they were retaliated against for taking time off to care for their children, others for aging parents, and some for themselves.
“I think it’s just a societal thing. There are so many more single dads out there than there used to be who have custody … and of course everybody has aging parents,” said Siedlecki, who has seen men being retaliated against for taking FMLA leave. “If there’s any opportunity for advancement, those people aren’t going to be at the top of the list only because they used their federally guaranteed right.”
Siedlecki secured the largest jury verdict ever — $11.65 million — in a caregiver bias suit on behalf of a man who charged that he was retaliated against for taking time off under the FMLA to care for his aging parents. Schultz v. Advocate Health, No. 01C-0702 (N.D. Ill. June 5, 2002). The case settled for an undisclosed amount in 2003.
Loring N. Spolter, a solo employment law attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who represents both employees and employers, said he too has noticed a rise in FMLA claims filed by men. The suits are being filed by older men who need time off to care for their own health needs, their wives’ health needs or their aging parents. “And younger males are more likely to take time off than their older counterparts for things that their counterparts may have been reluctant to take time off for, like taking care of a second child,” Spolter said.
Meanwhile, EEOC attorney Elizabeth Grossman, who works in the New York office, said stereotypes against men continue to exist in the workplace, although many employers are getting better at establishing gender-neutral leave policies.
“I expect that the number of men coming forward to claim caregiver discrimination will increase,” Grossman said. “Men are deciding to fight the stereotypes. Men are deciding they want to have a work/family balance.”
And employers are listening and responding, said several management-side attorneys, who said Corporate America is acting responsibly in assuring men and women equal rights.
“The recognition that paternity leave is equally important to men as for women, and of value to the family unit overall, is receiving increasing recognition in the U.S. workplace,” said Diana Scott, co-chairwoman of Greenberg Traurig’s labor and employment practice out of the firm’s Los Angeles office.
She noted that unlike the goals of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, or state pregnancy disability acts, paternity leave does not focus on the physically debilitating effects of pregnancy. “Rather, it deals with nongender-specific issues such as baby bonding and family-unit care, which are relevant to both parents,” she said.
Tarun Mehta, a management-side lawyer in the San Francisco office of Bryan Cave, said he encourages employers to establish a nonhostile work environment so that no one — including men — is scared to take time off.
“There is still a hesitation on the part of a lot of males in the blue- and white-collar fields to take the leave for fear of how it will look,” Mehta said. “It’s important for those of us who do employment work to make sure that they know, that all levels of employers know, that it’s not OK to make jokes or derogatory comments like, ‘Oh, John took this time off.’ “