Pregnancy Discrimination Case Survives Summary Judgment

In Washington v. NYC Madison Avenue Medical P.C. et al, No. 20-CV-03446-LTS-SN, 2023 WL 4980215 (S.D.N.Y. August 3, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s sex/pregnancy discrimination claims asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York City Human Rights Law.

In sum, plaintiff, a receptionist employed by defendant, alleges that defendant unlawfully discriminated against her on account of her pregnancy and terminated her employment in retaliation for requesting and taking maternity leave.

After summarizing the “black letter” law, the court applied it. Here is the court’s analysis of the “pretext” element of the three-step burden-shifting analysis applicable to these claims:

Here, Plaintiff has framed a number of disputes regarding the plausibility and consistency of NYC Madison’s account of her work performance and criticism thereof. First, there is a dispute regarding Ms. Cruz’s treatment of Plaintiff. While NYC Madison alleges that Plaintiff displayed competency problems for which Ms. Cruz sought to counsel her from the late spring of 2018, Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Cruz treated her badly and reprimanded her more frequently after Plaintiff told her she was pregnant. (See Pl. Dep. Tr. 179-80 (Plaintiff’s testimony that “once I told my supervisor that I was pregnant, it became a hostile environment” at work); docket entry no. 66-3 ¶ 7 (Plaintiff’s assertion that Ms. Cruz “began to articulate problems with [Plaintiff’s] work performance,” and that this “only started once [Ms. Cruz] learned of [Plaintiff’s] pregnancy.”)). Plaintiff’s claims of poor treatment after the pregnancy was disclosed are arguably corroborated by her statements in emails to Ms. Boffa, which show that Plaintiff was struggling with the environment at her job, and which included an assertion that “the way I’m being treated in this office I wouldn’t put on my worst enemy please help me I can’t afford to quit.” (Docket entry no. 66-7.) Texts with Ms. Cruz show an amicable relationship where Ms. Cruz gives Plaintiff leeway with her schedule to attend doctor’s appointments, take sick time, and handle car issues. (Docket entry no. 66-4.) However, during her deposition, Plaintiff stated that their relationship in person was less amicable, and that her fellow receptionist, Landi, was a witness to it. (Pl. Dep. Tr. 37:11-23.) Plaintiff states that, in January 2019, “the warnings became so much that [she] began to worry that [she] would be retaliated against for requesting leave,” and she confided in a co-worker regarding the “tension [she] was feeling due to requesting maternity leave.” (Docket entry no. 66-3 ¶ 7-8.)

Second, Ms. Cruz did not provide Plaintiff with the paperwork needed to receive maternity leave until after Plaintiff escalated her request to Ms. Boffa. (Docket entry no. 66-7.) Plaintiff also points out that she received a written warning about her work performance on “the same day that she received her leave paperwork” on January 28, 2019. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 19.) Finally, Plaintiff has identified discrepancies between her work schedule and MRI requisitions upon which NYC Madison purports to base its conclusion that she performed her work poorly. The write-up from January 28, 2019, stated that Plaintiff had prescribed unauthorized MRIs. (Docket entry no. 66-8.) Defendant has identified seven MRI records as the alleged basis for this January 28 write-up, but Plaintiff asserts that six of those MRI requisitions were not actually prepared by her, and so could not have provided a legitimate basis for her termination. (Docket entry no. 66-16; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 51-59.)

The Court agrees that these disputed MRIs introduce issues of material fact as to the substance and basis of Defendant’s proffered legitimate reason for termination. Most significantly, three of the MRIs entered into evidence are dated either during Plaintiff’s maternity leave, or after her termination—as such it appears “impossible for Ms. Washington to have drafted” these MRI authorizations. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 57.) Two of the MRI forms were dated during her maternity leave (March 21, 2019, and March 31, 2019); while one was dated following her termination (April 2, 2020). (Id. ¶ 56-59; docket entry no. 66-16; Pl. Dep. Tr. 69:6-19.) One MRI form (dated January 8, 2019) was typewritten, and Plaintiff testified she never typed MRI forms, so that it couldn’t have been her work. (Pl. Dep. Tr. 68:7-23.) As for the Citi-Med MRI forms, Plaintiff testifies she did not recognize the Citi-Med MRI forms at all or use them during her employment. (Docket entry no. 66-16 at 4-7; Pl. Dep. Tr. 69:6-19.) Thus, a total of six of the seven MRI forms have been disputed by Plaintiff.

Accordingly, the court found that genuine disputes of material fact exist as to whether Defendant’s proffered reasons for Plaintiff’s termination were a pretext for discrimination, and thus denied summary judgment to Defendant on the Title VII discrimination claim.

And, since plaintiff met her burden under Title VII, it necessarily held that plaintiff met her burden under the NYC Human Rights Law, which is “much more liberally construed” than its federal counterpart.

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