A federal judge recently sided with Disney after a former employee sued the company when he was fired soon after returning from paternity leave.
A judge recently ruled in favor of Disney after a former employee sued the company when he was fired for taking paternity leave. The suit was originally filed by Steven Van Soeren, an employee of Disney Streaming Service. Why was the suit filed, though?
According to the suit, Van Soeren began noticing discrimination and harassment from his colleagues before he even notified them that his wife was expecting and that he planned to take paternity leave. The suit further stated:
“Plaintiff was expecting a child but had not disclosed that information to anyone at the Company…Yet, Mr. McConnell [Soeren’s supervisor], in an unrelated conversation, blurted out to Plaintiff, ‘maybe you shouldn’t have a kid.’ Likewise, Mr. Paglia [a co-worker] sent Plaintiff an unsolicited video of children developing in utero. The same sentiments were harbored by Jennifer Kaufmann, Associate Director of UX & Design, who asked if the Plaintiff had a good reason for having a child. Mr. McConnell also stated, within hearing distance of Plaintiff, ‘I don’t know why he [Plaintiff] decided to have a kid. At 30 my wife and I thought about it but decided that we’d wait until 40.’”
Again, this was all said before Van Soeren even told them his wife was expecting. Concerned and genuinely creeped out, Van Soeren believes “it suggested the company was somehow spying on his personal communications.” He took his concerns to the HR department, but nothing was done. When his child was born, he ended up taking two weeks of paternity leave. When he returned to work, “he was fired without warning, despite his clearly positive performance reviews.”
As a result, Van Soeren sued the company, arguing his “termination was the result of retaliatory discrimination against him for taking paternity to leave.” In June, Disney filed a motion to have the suit dismissed, claiming “pregnancy discrimination laws only provide protection to a pregnant employee.” U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald agreed with Disney and concluded “Van Soeren can’t get past the first test of a Title VII claim because he isn’t a member of a protected class.” She added, “being a new parent isn’t enough…Title VII does not protect an employee whose spouse is pregnant.”
It’s important to note that no one disagreed that Van Soeren was terminated in retaliation outright for having a child. Simply put, the court didn’t think it mattered because he was not the one to physically give birth. Because of that, he is not considered a protected class of person, like a pregnant woman would be if she was suddenly terminated for taking maternity leave.