The Yale Law Journal

April 2009

Childbearing, Childrearing, and Title VII: Parental Leave Policies at Large American Law Firms

Christen Linke Young

118 Yale L.J. 1182 (2009).

In a fiercely competitive labor market, large American law firms universally offer some paid leave to attorneys after the birth of the child. This Note offers an empirical investigation of those policies, finding that all firms offer paid leave to new mothers, and many firms offer at least some leave to fathers as well. In most cases, however, men receive much less leave than women. The most grossly gender-disproportionate policies harm attorneys of both genders—perpetuating stereotypes about women, stigmatizing fathers who spend time with their children, and entrenching the “ideal worker” norm that scholars have protested. Based on this analysis, the Note illustrates how some policies are vulnerable to a Title VII challenge by male employees. In particular, law firms that offer maternity leave of three to four months, without offering male attorneys a parallel benefit, violate Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination. Furthermore, some firms offering facially neutral policies may also manifest impermissible gender bias in the application of parental leave.