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Lawsuit over parental leave policy will continue against Jones Day

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Jones Day must face a lawsuit brought by former associates who accuse the firm’s parental leave policy of discriminating against fathers, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled last week.

Judge Randolph Moss of the District of Columbia said in his Sept. 4 memorandum opinion the court cannot resolve on the pleadings the question raised by plaintiffs Mark Savignac and his wife, Julia Sheketoff, regarding the policy, which provides 18 weeks of leave to new mothers and adoptive parents but only 10 weeks of leave to biological fathers.

The American Lawyer has coverage.

“Without providing the parties with some opportunity for discovery and to offer evidentiary submissions, the court cannot determine whether the policy was adopted and operates, in whole or in part, as a substitute for an extended period of parental leave for birth mothers,” Moss wrote.

He added that the defendants, Jones Day, cited precedents that suggest that a “period of physical disability due to pregnancy and childbirth” could last four to eight weeks.

“But, even accepting that premise, four weeks is very different than eight weeks, and substantial ground for difference of opinion may exist about whether many (or most) of the associates who benefit from Jones Day’s maternal disability policy are, in fact, disabled for the entire eight-week period,” he said.

Savignac and Sheketoff, who are former law clerks for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, filed the lawsuit against Jones Day in August 2019.

They say they complained about the unequal parental leave policy in an email sent in January 2019, shortly after Sheketoff left the firm to become an appellate public defender. Savignac was fired three business days later, they say, and male partners were banned from giving him good references.

Their lawsuit alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; the Equal Pay Act; the Family and Medical Leave Act; and Washington, D.C., laws governing sex discrimination and family leave.

The American Lawyer reports that Jones Day partner Traci Lovitt told Moss during a hearing in August that a reading of the firm’s short-term disability policy should put an end to the former associates’ claims.

“It’s not sex-based,” Lovitt said. “The disability correlates with pregnancy. Just because you’re a woman, you don’t get short-term disability leave. You get disability leave because you had a child.”

Savignac disagreed, the American Lawyer reports, saying that while the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that new mothers be given leave on the same terms as women who have other disabilities, it does not guarantee a fixed amount of leave.

“Regardless of how you could read these written policies, we’ve alleged that they give women a minimum of eight weeks regardless of how they are disabled,” he said. “The law is that this period has to be individualized. You can’t just treat women as members of a group sharing statistical similarities.”

Moss also permitted the former associates’ retaliation claims against Jones Day to proceed in his decision last week.

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