Pregnancy Discrimination Claim Sufficiently Alleged

In Vivian Xiang v. Eagle Enterprises, LLC, 19-cv-1752, 2020 WL 248941 (S.D.N.Y. January 16, 2020), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s pregnancy discrimination claim, asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The law, as summarized by the court:

A plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to show that (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she satisfactorily performed the duties required by the position; (3) she was discharged; and (4) the discharge occurred in circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. Id. Where a plaintiff employee alleges a failure to accommodate her pregnancy, to adequately plead a prima facie case she must plead sufficient facts to show “[1] that she belongs to the protected class, [2] that she sought accommodation, [3] that the employer did not accommodate her, and [4] that the employer did accommodate others similar in their ability or inability to work.” Legg, 820 F.3d at 73 (internal quotation marks omitted); Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 575 U.S. 206, 229 (2015). Whether an employee is alleging wrongful termination or a discriminatory failure to accommodate, “[t]he requirements to establish a prima facie case are minimal, and a plaintiff’s burden is therefore not onerous.”

Applying the law, the court held:

Here, Xiang’s FAC pleads sufficient facts to make out a prima facie case of Title VII pregnancy discrimination. First, it pleads facts suggesting that Market America, in applying or purporting to apply its work-from-home and PTO policies, failed to accommodate her pregnancy. According to the FAC, Remache on at least one occasion granted work-from-home privileges to other members of Xiang’s team but denied her request for the same. FAC ¶ 21. Xiang also pleads that she was obliged to use PTO for pregnancy-related medical appointments or short absences when such absences would not have otherwise required the use of paid leave. Id. ¶¶ 20, 22, 29. Second, Xiang pleads facts that satisfy her minimal burden of showing that her termination—four months after informing Market America that she was pregnant, and with her maternity leave becoming imminent, see id. ¶¶ 17–19, 23–27, 33–35—occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.

*5 Excising the references to extraneous documents, defendants’ sole argument in opposition to this claim is that, because the three individual defendants implicated in the complaint—Remache, Spesock, and Hogan—are also women, defendants are entitled to a strong presumption that Xiang was not subjected to sex discrimination. Def. Mem. at 11–12; Reply at 4; see Allen v. Chanel, Inc., No. 12 Civ. 6758 (LAP), 2015 WL 3938096, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2015) (“[W]hen the decision-maker is in the same protected class[ ] as the plaintiff-employee, courts can draw inferences against discriminatory intent.”). Assuming arguendo the merits of this proposition, it gains limited traction here. That is because, as pled in Xiang’s complaint, there is no indication that any of the decisionmakers in Xiang’s case were pregnant. Because Xiang has exclusively pled employment discrimination on the basis of her pregnancy, the shared gender of Xiang and her superiors does not undermine Xiang’s prima facie showing of discrimination. The Court therefore denies defendants’ motion to dismiss Xiang’s claim of discrimination under Title VII.

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