Sex/Gender Discrimination Sufficiently Alleged; Allegations Include Male Subordinates Ignoring Female Plaintiff’s Direction

In Sadowski v. Suppi Construction, Inc., C.A. No. N22C-11-149 SPL, 2023 WL 8282052 (Del.Super. Nov. 30, 2023), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged gender discrimination under the Delaware Discrimination in Employment Act (which, the court noted, it was interpreting consistently with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

From the decision:

A claim for gender discrimination requires Sadowski to prove: (1) she belonged to a protected class, (2) she was qualified for the position, (3) she was terminated, and (4) the circumstances surrounding the termination give rise to an inference of illegal discriminatory motive.77 Defendants do not contest that Sadowski, a woman, belonged to a protected class, nor do they challenge her qualifications; rather, they contend that Sadowski fails to establish (1) that she was terminated, and (2) that the facts give rise to an inference of illegal discriminatory motive on behalf of Suppi or SCI.

To satisfy the element of termination, Sadowski must allege that she was either terminated or constructively discharged. Constructive discharge includes threats of discharge, suggestion or encouragement of resignation, a demotion or reduction of pay or benefits, involuntary transfer to a less desirable position, alteration of job responsibilities, and unsatisfactory job evaluations.78 Here, it is reasonably conceivable that the combined effect of Suppi yelling at Sadowski for taking up too much time of the men in the field, SCI reducing her worksite oversight responsibilities, SCI removing her from the work schedule, and SCI threatening her termination if she did not drop the charges against Suppi constituted her constructive discharge – Sadowski reasonably felt she could not return to work. Treating these well-pleaded allegations as true, Sadowski sufficiently pled constructive discharge.

To establish discriminatory motive, Sadowski need only present “sufficient evidence to allow a fact finder to conclude that the employer is treating some people less favorably than others based on a trait that is protected.”79 Here, Sadowski, a woman, was charged with supervising a group comprised predominantly, if not exclusively, of men. Suppi and SCI favored Sadowski’s male subordinates and refused to support Sadowski in her role. The Amended Complaint asserts Sadowski had the authority and responsibility to direct her male subordinates to perform the work as she saw fit but lacked the support and backing of her employer when she attempted to do her job.80 Rather, her male subordinates ignored her direction because SCI and Suppi were loath to act.
As this Court has recognized, “a plaintiff is almost exclusively confined to proving [her] case with indirect evidence [because] ‘… an employer who discriminates will almost never announce a discriminatory animus or provide employees or courts with direct evidence of discriminatory intent.’ ”81 The Amended Complaint alleges sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that SCI and Suppi engaged in gender discrimination by condoning employee disobedience because Sadowski is a woman.

The court further held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged a claim for retaliation, noting that after she “reported her gender discrimination to her supervisors and suffered a near immediate adverse employment action when Suppi, SCI’s owner, allegedly assaulted her” and that “[t]hen, in the wake of that incident, and while Sadowski attempted to recover, SCI reduced her work.”

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