A father is suing his former law firm, alleging that they punished him for taking paternity leave. The case highlights something that's obvious but often overlooked: work-life balance is a men's issue too.
According to ABA Journal, Dechert attorney Ariel Ayanna took paternity leave and additional Family and Medical Leave in order to take care of his kids as well as his wife, who has a mental illness. His complaint describes his situation thus:
During his second year of employment at Dechert, Ayanna's wife became pregnant which coincided with a worsening of her condition. Her condition deteriorated to the point that she attempted suicide. Ayanna was an equal co-parent of his children before his wife's suicide attempt. After it, he became the primary caretaker of their children and had to care for her, assuming a traditionally "female" role.
However (also according to the complaint), his firm "equates masculinity with relegating caretaking to women and working long hours in the office" and "by taking additional leave beyond the paternity leave offered by Dechert, Ayanna did not conform to Dechert's firm culture for males." The result, says Ayanna: when he returned from leave, he was denied work, falsely reviewed, and eventually fired, all in retaliation for taking time off in the first place.
ABA Journal quotes work-life expert Joan Williams (who's lent her expertise to us in the past): "If you talk to young people in law firms, they don't take parental leave, it's not done. ... [Often] men are sent ... very clear unspoken messages that they are not to do this." And indeed, Ayanna's case reveals a wider issue — we often treat work-life balance like it's something only women have to deal with. This makes it easy for people to claim that the solution is for greedy ladies to quit trying to "have it all." Ayanna's story makes clear that both that decisions about caring for family are often made out of necessity, and that they impact all family members, not just Mom. Hopefully Ayanna's case will draw attention to the fact that men need leave too — and it's sad but true that if work-life balance became a men's issue, companies would probably start taking it more seriously.