When you endure discrimination at work and decide to undertake legal action based on that discrimination, some things may happen and there are other things that you reasonably can expect will happen. Once you sue, you can plan on your employer trying to attack your claims in every way possible. When that happens, it pays to have a skilled New York City employment discrimination lawyer to get the evidence you need to shoot down those defense arguments.
A recent pregnancy discrimination case from Brooklyn shows what we mean. C.L. was a woman who, in 2012, had been working for a hospital in East Flatbush for six years as a “community access coordinator.” That December, she sought (and her employer approved) maternity leave. So far so good, right?
However, in 2013, the hospital assigned a new supervisor over C.L. That woman allegedly made “disparaging remarks” about C.L.’s pregnancy and maternity leave. On June 25, C.L.’s first day back from her 16-week maternity leave, the hospital fired her, asserting that her position had been eliminated.
C.L. sued for pregnancy discrimination.
When you’re seeking relief in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, there are three essential steps. First, you have to show that you have what the law calls a “prima facie” case of discrimination. This involves demonstrating that you were a member of a protected class, that your employer inflicted an adverse employment action, that you were qualified for the work you were doing, and that you were treated differently than others outside your protected class.
When a Lateral Move is Actually an Adverse Action
One line of attack that your employer may use to try to torpedo your discrimination case is to assert that what happened to you did not constitute an “adverse employment action” under the law. An action by your employer can qualify as adverse under the law based on many different criteria. Obviously, things like terminations, demotions, suspensions, reductions in pay, and disciplinary “write-ups” are generally adverse. However, even things that are not blatantly adverse may still be so. If your employer reassigns to a lateral position, but that position is less desirable or less prestigious than your old one, that can be an adverse employment action under the law.
C.L.’s employer tried this argument. It pointed out that, although it terminated her coordinator employment, it offered her a social worker position at the same salary she was making before. As C.L.’s attorneys were able to demonstrate, however, the social worker job lacked the managerial responsibilities that her old coordinator role had, thereby making a potential move from coordinator to social worker an adverse one, even if it did not involve a reduction in pay.
Once you’ve cleared the “prima facie” hurdle, the burden shifts to your employer to give the court a legitimate reason for the action it took. Again, the right legal team can be crucial in breaking down the disclosures your employer makes in this regard to identify and exploit inconsistencies and fallacies in that ostensibly “legitimate” reason, because those flaws may be vital in persuading the court that this “legitimate” reason was actually a pretext for discrimination.
In C.L.’s case, the employer asserted that it eliminated its community access coordinator positions and instead created the role of “community relations manager,” but that because she “had no business education or sales or marketing experience,” she was not qualified for the community relations manager job.
Showing Pretext Through Your Employer’s Inaccurate Statements
This, however, did not tell the entire story. C.L. secured proof that business education was not a requirement for the new manager job and that, in a previous year’s performance evaluation, the employer indicated that she “had satisfactorily performed… various responsibilities… pertaining directly to marketing.” So one basis was not a requirement for the job and the other asserted basis was something that the employer’s own documents revealed as inaccurate. From that, a jury could reasonably conclude that the employer’s stated reasons were pretexts for discrimination, the appeals court ruled.
This woman won her appeal because she had the proof she needed for her case, and also because her legal team had the evidence necessary to poke major holes in the veracity of the “legitimate” reasons the employer offered. When it comes to substantiating the elements of your case and also debunking the arguments your employer has offered, it takes a knowledgeable and experienced legal advocate. Look to the diligent and determined New York pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to be that advocate for you. To find out more, contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to set up a free and confidential consultation. We are eager to hear from you and to get started helping you.