Lawsuit Against Bank Alleges Gender and Pregnancy Discrimination in Violation of New York City and State Law

A former vice president at a New York City bank has filed a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of state and city law. Zhao v. Deutsche Bank, AG, No. 1:13-cv-02116, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Mar. 29, 2013). The lawsuit claims, in part, that the bank discriminated against her because of her gender, retaliated against her for reporting discriminatory treatment, and used her pregnancy as a pretext to terminate her employment. It asserts violations of the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), both of which prohibit gender discrimination. The case illustrates the close relationship between pregnancy discrimination and other forms of discrimination based on gender.

According to her complaint, plaintiff Heather Zhao began working at Deutsche Bank in Manhattan in August 2010, in the position of Vice President in the bank’s Global Investment Solutions Group (GIS). She claims that she received consistent praise for her work from direct supervisors, including the receipt of a $50,000 bonus after only five months. The problems began, she alleges, when Karim Ghannam joined the bank in January 2011 as “Global Head of Private Markets.” Complaint at 7. He allegedly began to “marginalize her role” within the company, id., by transferring her to less-prominent positions and reducing her pay. Zhao claims that he tried to intimidate her through negative performance reviews, while allegedly making it clear that her gender was the basis of the discriminatory treatment. She reported this treatment to the human resources office in late 2011.

Zhao learned she was pregnant in early 2012, but found the bank’s Private Markets management to be unsupportive. She claims she experienced frequent “discriminatory and offensive comments regarding her pregnancy and her continued role at the Bank.” Id. at 10. She went on maternity leave on September 13, 2012, and gave birth on September 30. She claims that she continued to work while on leave during the last two months of 2012, and that her year-end “deliverable numbers were exceptional.” Id. at 11. The bank informed her of the termination of her employment on January 16, 2013, nine days before she was scheduled to return to work. The bank stated that her termination was part of a reduction in force (RIF) plan adopted in September 2012, but that no one had told her so she could “enjoy her maternity leave.” Id. at 12. Zhao claims that this explanation is untenable because of her exemplary sales performance and the growth of the Private Markets group. She alleges that the bank used the 2012 RIF as a pretext for firing multiple women deemed “problematic” Id. at 13.

Zhao’s lawsuit alleges that Deutsche Bank violated federal and state labor laws by paying her, and other female employees, different salaries and bonuses than similarly-situated male employees. It alleges violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for terminating her without cause during maternity leave and in retaliation for asserting her rights. Finally, the suit alleges retaliation and discrimination based on gender and pregnancy in violation of both the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL. Zhao is seeking reinstatement, back wages, compensatory and punitive damages, declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief
Employees, former employees, and job seekers in New York City have rights under federal, state, and city law. The New York City pregnancy discrimination attorneys of Phillips & Associates fight for the rights of people who have experience employment discrimination or retaliation in violation of these laws. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

Web Resources:

No. 1:13-cv-02116, Zhao v. Deutsche Bank, AG (PACER registration required), Southern District of New York
More Blog Posts:

Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit Brought by EEOC Settles for $20,000, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 18, 2013
Former Account Executive Sues NBA for Pregnancy and Gender Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 23, 2012
Former Bank VP Adds Retaliation Claim to Pending New York Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 5, 2012

Contact Information