New York Judge Allows Pregnancy Discrimination Claim Against Victoria’s Secret to Proceed

320px-Victoria's_Secret_at_Briarwood_Mall.JPGIn a suit for pregnancy discrimination and retaliation, a federal judge in New York City has denied the portions of a motion for summary judgment that sought to dismiss claims under state and municipal anti-discrimination laws. While the judge granted summary judgment for some claims related to wages, he held that sufficient issues of fact exist to permit claims of wrongful termination and retaliation to continue to trial.

The plaintiff, Fredda Malena, worked for defendant Ann O’Malley, who led a creative team for the Victoria’s Secret catalog, as an executive assistant for just over two years, beginning in November 2006. Malena’s job duties consisted of various administrative office work. She consistently received highly positive performance reviews, and even received an “Impact Award” for her contributions to the office environment.

Malena took maternity leave beginning in July 2008, and she alleges that the work environment changed soon after she told management of her pregnancy. She says that she began receiving criticism for issues that had never been a problem before. She also alleges that O’Malley met with their human resources manager to express concerns about Malena’s work since the birth of her child, and to discuss the possibility of replacing Malena with another employee. Malena met with the same HR manager to complain about O’Malley’s allegedly unfriendly behavior.

Victoria’s Secret announced a reduction-in-force in February 2009. According to evidence produced by the defendants, all decisions relating to layoffs were made solely by senior executives, who allegedly never discussed specific people in O’Malley’s group with O’Malley. Ultimately, they terminated Malena, who then sued the Victoria’s Secret corporation, several of its subsidiaries, and O’Malley for pregnancy discrimination and retaliation under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law.

The defendants brought motions for partial summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claims under state and federal labor and anti-discrimination statutes. The district court granted summary judgment on some of the labor law claims, but it allowed the plaintiff’s claims for discrimination and retaliation to proceed. The court analyzed her claims using a three-part analysis for a gender-discrimination claim: a plaintiff must make a prima facie case for discrimination or retaliation, and then a defendant must provide a non-discriminatory reason. Upon such a showing, the plaintiff must prove that discrimination or retaliation was the real reason for an employment action.

In this case, the court held that the plaintiff made a prima facie case, and that the defendants provided a lawful rationale. The question became whether a “genuine issue of material fact” existed as to the “real” reason for Malena’s termination. Plaintiff suggests that, even if the people directly responsible for her termination had an “innocent state of mind,” they may “have been tainted by animus attributable to O’Malley.” The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court recently held, in Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 131 S. Ct. 1186 (2011), that an employer may be liable for a discriminatory firing, even in the absence of overt discriminatory intent, if a proximate cause of that firing was some action that the supervisor intended to be discriminatory. The court held that O’Malley’s prior meetings regarding Malena’s pregnancy provided enough of an issue of fact to survive summary judgment.

At Phillips & Associates, we help safeguard the rights of employees and job seekers under federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws. Contact us today online, or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Pregnant CEO Prompts Discussion About Workplace Discrimination, “Having It All,” New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 26, 2012
EEOC Settles Pregnancy Discrimination Suit Against New York-Based Clothing Retailer, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 5, 2012
Las Vegas Casino Employee Claims Pregnancy Discrimination in Lawsuit, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 21, 2012
Photo credit: ‘Victoria’s Secret at Briarwood Mall’ by Dwight Burdette [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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