Pregnancy Discrimination, Title VII, and the FMLA

from the October 2012 LEL Labor and Employment Law News

A recent federal case from the Southern District of New York provides a glimpse into the world of high fashion and its treatment of a pregnant employee (and should be adapted for the screen, although those facts are not included here). The plaintiff claimed that her employer, Gucci America, fired her because she was pregnant and that firing violated Title VII’s Pregnancy Discrimination Act, state and local anti-discrimination laws, and retaliation and interference with under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  The plaintiff’s employer filed a motion for summary judgment that claimed the plaintiff was fired as part of a general restructuring to boost sales.  Crisses v. Gucci America, Inc., Case No.1:10-cv-08393-GBD-GWG (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 21, 2012).

The case provides a clear discussion of the type of evidence that must be presented in this sort of case:

First, the plaintiff has the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination by showing that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the duties required by the position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the position from which plaintiff was terminated was filled by a non-pregnant employee or, alternatively, the discharge occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. . . . A plaintiff's burden to establish a prima facie case is minimal, and does not require any direct evidence of discrimination. . . .  ‘A plaintiff may prevail if she submits enough believable evidence for a jury to find that an adverse employment decision resulted because of discrimination.’”

 Next, assuming the plaintiff meets her burden of proving a prima facie case, the plaintiff "creates a presumption that the employer unlawfully discriminated," and shifts the burden of production on to the employer to provide evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's termination. . . .

 Finally, if the defendant satisfies its burden by producing a nondiscriminatory reason for its action, the employer will be entitled to summary judgment unless the plaintiff can prove that the employer's reason was merely a pretext for pregnancy discrimination. In other words, the plaintiff needs to point to specific evidence that reasonably supports a finding of a discriminatory intent. "An employer's reason for termination cannot be proved to be a pretext for discrimination `unless it is shown both that the reason was false, and that discrimination was the real reason.'"

The court held that the employer’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss the employee’s claims was denied in its entirety. The court’s decision provides a close look at the facts in the case and how they affected the outcome of the employer’s motion for summary judgment – and it does so as part of an interesting story.