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Court Ruling Spurs Talk of Fathers' Rights

January 15, 1987|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

It was a victory for motherhood, contemporary style. Now, what's to be done about the rights of fathers?

That was the widespread reaction this week after the U. S. Supreme Court upheld a California law that gives pregnant workers the right to a four-month leave, with a guarantee of getting their jobs back.

More specifically, this was the response:

In Los Angeles, pioneer feminist Betty Friedan hailed Tuesday's decision as a catalyst that will "spur our efforts to get parental leave for women and men alike."

In Washington, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), concurred, "If the Supreme Court can understand, hopefully the House and Senate can." At month's end, Schroeder and Rep. William L. Clay (D-Mo). will reintroduce a bill guaranteeing up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave and job security for new mothers and fathers.

"We're celebrating," Schroeder said, "but I think the high ground is still left. Either a male or a female should be able to stay home with the child. I don't see why you dictate only one can."

'Very Encouraging'

But Phyllis Schlafly, who heads the pro-family and politically conservative Eagle Forum, wasn't going along with parental leave for mothers and fathers, which, she said, "benefits high-income, two-earner yuppie couples. The poor strata of society don't get to cash in at all."

Of the Schroeder bill Schlafly said, "It's a big racket. Males or females for almost any reason they can dream up can take an extended leave . . . the father and mother could go off to the Caribbean for a vacation . . . the father doesn't even have to be married to the mother."

Still, Schlafly added, it is "very encouraging that the Supreme Court clearly recognizes that there is a difference between men and women and that they can be treated differently. . . . I believe in special protective legislation for women in the work force. It recognizes factual differences."

To Lesa Webster, a Southern California Gas Co. employee-on-leave who gave birth Saturday to a daughter, the court's affirmation that women should not have to choose between keeping a job and having a family was "long overdue." Still, she said, "I think it's important for the men to have that time, too. Not everyone has a mother or a neighbor or an aunt. I think it's the father's responsibility to be there to help."

Discrimination Against Dads?

"It's just the beginning," said Los Angeles feminist attorney Gloria Allred, who acknowledged having "mixed feelings" about the California law, in that it may discriminate unconstitutionally against fathers solely on account of their sex. She cited the importance of fathers being able "to bond with their children and practice their parenting skills as soon as possible. I think such an amended law (including both parents) would be very pro-family. . . ."

The Supreme Court, in its 6-3 ruling, agreed with the Coalition for Reproductive Equality in the Workplace (CREW), which filed the amicus brief in the case of Lillian Garland, a receptionist at California Federal Savings & Loan Assn. in West Los Angeles who lost her job on returning from three months' maternity leave in 1982. Stated CREW, "A female employee subject to an inadequate leave policy is forced to choose between exercising her right to procreate and keeping her job--a choice her male co-workers never face."

Diana Soltankhah, 25, an administrative assistant in the graduate division at UCLA who expects her second child in two weeks, is one of the women workers of childbearing age who understand that dilemma.

"I'm going to work as long as I can," she said, and will then take three months' maternity leave (six weeks of it paid). "It will be a financial burden."

After the birth of her son, Saman, now 19 months, Soltankhah took 10 weeks, including a doctor's extension of two weeks and two weeks' vacation but found, "It wasn't enough time to spend with my son. He was so young and I didn't want to leave him with just anybody. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my husband was unemployed at that time and he was able to stay with the baby."

She added, "I do want to work and have a career, but I am torn. My mother didn't work until we were in kindergarten. I wish I could do the same but money has a lot to do with it."

"Gosh, I think it's great," Soltankhah said of the high court's ruling.

Soltankhah goes along with the concept of parental leave--to a degree. "I think my husband (a security officer who works nights) should have some time off," she said, "but only a week or two at the most, in the beginning. I don't totally agree with men having the same maternity leave that women do."

"If men could have babies, they'd be just as entitled," said Hyla Cohn, a market administrator for Pacific Bell, "but they can't so what are you going to do?"

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