Disney fires man for taking paternity leave; judge rules it's not discrimination because he didn't give birth

Steven Van Soeren worked for Disney Streaming Service, which does grant some paternity leave for employees. After Van Soeren's wife got pregnant, he claims to have noticed a pattern of undercutting comments and other harassment from his colleagues — despite the fact that he hadn't yet disclosed to them that his wife was pregnant, and that he would be taking paternity leave. From Hollywood Reporter:

"'By way of example, Plaintiff was expecting a child but had not disclosed that information to anyone at the Company' states the complaint, which was filed in New York federal court. '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 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.'"

This is already creepy and concerning, and Van Soeren believes it suggests that the company was somehow spying on his personal communications. He complained to HR, but nothing happened. After his wife gave birth, he took 2 weeks of paternity leave, then came back to work, and was fired without warning soon thereafter, despite his clearly positive performance reviews.

Van Soeren sued Disney Streaming Service, alleging that his termination was the result of retaliatory discrimination against him for taking paternity to leave. Here's how the Hollywood Reporter sums up the conclusion:

Disney in June filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that pregnancy discrimination laws "only provide protection to a pregnant employee."

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald agreed, finding that Van Soeren can't get past the first test of a Title VII claim because he isn't a member of a protected class. "Being  new parent" isn't enough, she found, and Title VII "does not protect an employee whose spouse is pregnant."

Buchwald also found that Van Soeren's FMLA claim fails because he was able to take his paternity leave "without incident" and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.

So, while no one's necessarily disagreeing that Van Soeren was indeed fired in retaliation for having a child, the court decided that it doesn't matter, because he himself didn't physically birth the child; therefore, he is not a protected class of person against whom discrimination is possible, according to the law (like a pregnant person would be).

Could universal paid parental leave finally be the issue that unites Men's Rights Activists and Actual Normal Gender Equality Activists?

Judge Rules Disney Free to Fire Employee Who Took Paternity Leave Because His Wife, Not Him, Was Pregnant [Emily Alford / Jezebel]

Disney Beats Pregnancy Discrimination Claim as Court Finds Spouses Aren't Protected [Ashley Cullins / Hollywood Reporter]

Image: Jennifer Lynn / Flickr (CC 2.0)