Meet the Man Who Sued His Boss to Spend More Time With His Kids

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CNN reporter Josh Levs battled for paid paternity leave – and as a result, helped both mothers and fathers get more time with their new children. But his fight isn’t over. The dad, shown here with his daughter, carries on the torch with a new book “All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together” (out in May). In honor of a new public service campaign called #LeanInTogether from Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org, here’s how one father is helping working parents. (Photo courtesy of Levs)

When CNN reporter Josh Levs put in his request for extended paid parental leave in August 2013, planning to help out at home after his wife gave birth to their third child, he says, “I wasn’t worried about it at all.” The Atlanta journalist, 42, had noted that CNN’s parent company Time Warner provided 10 weeks paid leave for women, as well as for men who had babies through adoption or surrogacy. Equal paid leave for biological fathers, beyond the two weeks that the company offered, “seemed like something they’d just overlooked,” Levs tells Yahoo Parenting. “I thought it was incredibly unlikely that they would turn me down.” 

STORY: Dads: Don’t Feel Guilty About Asking for Paternity Leave 

But two months later — after Levs’ wife Melanie, 42, gave birth — they did. The journalist received the disappointing news while home using up his two paid weeks and the vacation and sick days that he’d tacked on. Melanie had to deliver early because she developed severe preeclampsia and the dad-of-three (including sons age 5 and 8), was home “trying to take care of my sick wife and the baby and my boys.” 

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Photo courtesy of Josh Levs

STORY: Why Obama’s Paid Family and Sick Leave Plan Is Awesome For You 

Yet as the family’s sole breadwinner, he had no choice but to return to work about three weeks after his daughter was born because staying home without pay wasn’t financially viable. That’s when he decided to challenge the policy he blasts as “discriminatory” and filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Time Warner demanding equitable paid paternity leave. Announcing his move in a post on Tumblr, Levs explained, “It’s about doing what’s right…I look into my daughter’s beautiful new eyes and know where I need to be. It’s a feeling many other dads know. And it’s heartbreaking to think that I could lose this critical bonding time with her.” 

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Photo courtesy of Josh Levs

Back in the office, he says colleagues rallied to support him. “I was literally hugged and kissed in the hallway,” Levs marvels. “There was so much positivity.” With the brass though, he wasn’t as sure where he stood. Taking such a public stance, “I knew it was rolling the dice on my reputation and my career,” he says, noting that his lawyer advised him any court proceedings could drag on for years. “I worried, ‘Will another company in the future want to hire me, knowing that I challenge the system?’ But I let my feeling that this was the right thing to do, outweigh that.” Legally, Levs adds, when you file with the EEOC, companies can’t recriminate against you in any way, “so I tried not to let the worries get to me.” It was also a comfort that he’d been covering fatherhood at CNN, he adds. “In that sense, my work had given me a clear understanding of what’s going on with fathers in this country so I wasn’t plagued by fears that I would be judged.” 

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Photo courtesy of Josh Levs

In the American work place, though, where just 14 percent of companies offer paid paternity benefits and nearly a third of dads have no access to leave for childcare at all, Levs admits he feels the pressure of going against the grain. “I put myself on the line,” he says. “If naysayers turn out to be right and no one wants to hire me anywhere else later, then the Internet trolls will have their schadenfreude and the message will be, ‘Don’t challenge your workplace. Don’t’ do it. Don’t take the risk.’” 

STORY: Sheryl Sandberg: Men Should Support Their Wives and Daughters at Home’ #LeanInTogther

But Levs’ wager has already paid off. A year after he went to battle against Time Warner, he won. The company now offers six weeks paid leave for any parent, adoptive or biological. (Biological moms get their leave on top of their disability time, typically another six or eight weeks.) That’s a four week-reduction, unfortunately, for the time given adoptive and surrogate parents, which Levs writes is, “not just bad [but] counterproductive.” Still, he notes, “the overwhelming majority of parents in Time Warner will come out ahead tremendously from the new policy.” The very fact that the change was made is progress, he tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s concrete proof that when dads and moms come together and call for positive change, it can be done.” 

Though the reporter says he’ll probably never benefit from the policy shift at Time Warner, he’s thrilled for the fathers home now with their kids who wouldn’t have been able to do that before. “Real life experience shows that taking this risk was worth it,” he says. 

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Photo courtesy of Josh Levs

That’s not to say though that he’s finished fighting for the cause. Levs has written an upcoming book, All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together, calling for action. And it couldn’t come at a better time. Thursday marks the launch of a new public service campaign from Sheryl Sandberg’s organization LeanIn.org called #LeanInTogether, emphasizing how men benefit from equality and providing practical tips for men to do their part at home and at work. 

“We hear a lot about how America doesn’t have paid leave but nobody explains that the problem at the core of all this is that workplace policies are based on an outdated idea of what family roles are,” says Levs. “The reality of today is that fathers and mothers are much more egalitarian than ever before. Our laws and structures are totally out of touch with that. They’re based on something that is no longer true.” Stand up for yourself to change that, he says, and “people will come out and stand up to support you.” 

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