A male worker was approved for 12 weeks of parental leave to care for his newborn. When his boss learned that he planned to take leave, she asked him, “Why can’t your wife stay home and take care of the child?” She also said to him, “Will you be doing anything or just sitting home and watching TV all day?”
While he was out, he was required by his boss to continue working on certain projects and to respond to phone and email communications.
On the day the man returned from leave, he was let go because he allegedly violated a paperwork policy and failed to meet deadlines. Before he took the leave, the man had gotten only favorable reviews.
The employee sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress based on his gender. He argued that he was fired because he took a parental leave of absence to care for his child. He noted that his boss expressed disapproval that he was taking leave through her biased remarks and the requirement that he continue working while he was out.
The company countered that the worker was dismissed because he violated a policy and missed deadlines.
The employer lost. The court ruled that the staffer may have been fired for taking parental leave, not because he ran afoul of a company policy. The judge pointed to the timing of the termination – the first day the man got back from leave – as potential proof that the crew member may have faced emotional distress because of his gender.
And the court noted that the boss made comments about the man’s ability to care for a child.
Beware the risks of gender-based assumptions. Many male employees are increasing their level of involvement in child care as their wives assume bigger roles in the workplace.
Cite: Villanueva v. Midpen Property Management, Court of Appeals of California, No. H044066, 10/4/19.
(From the Nov. 25, 2019 issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors)