Court Finds Sufficient Evidence of Pretext in New Jersey Discrimination Case

New Jersey is an at-will employment state, which means that either the employer or employee can end the employment relationship at any time, for any non-discriminatory reason. As such, in most cases, an employer does not need to provide an employee with a reason for his or her termination. In cases where an employer fires an employee for a discriminatory reason, however, the employee can take action against the employer.

In a case recently decided by the District Court of New Jersey, the court found that the plaintiff had set forth sufficient facts to show that she was discriminated against due to her pregnancy to allow her claim to proceed. If your employer took adverse action against you based on your disability, race, gender, age, or another protected status, you should consult a trusted New Jersey employment discrimination attorney to help you recover any damages you may be owed.

Facts Regarding the Plaintiff’s Employment

Allegedly, the plaintiff was employed in the Child Development Center of the Department of the Navy. In late 2009, it was revealed she was selling bootleg DVDs, which violated the defendant’s standard of conduct, but her job performance was otherwise satisfactory. In 2011, the infant room in which she worked closed and she was transferred to the pre-toddler room. Shortly thereafter, she advised her supervisor she was pregnant. When the infant room then re-opened, she requested to be transferred back and was told pregnant women were no longer being placed in that room. She experienced complications with her pregnancy after which she was restricted as to how much weight she could lift. She was then cleared for full duty, but it was recommended that she be placed in the infant room because the job was less physical.

Reportedly, email correspondence between the plaintiff’s supervisor and the human resources department indicated that if the plaintiff asked for further accommodations, they would address it with disciplinary action. Additionally, one of the plaintiff’s co-workers complained that when a child fell and was bleeding the plaintiff did not help her tend to the child or clean up the blood. The plaintiff was subsequently terminated, for failing to assist when the child fell, her 2009 violation, and disrespectful behavior. She then filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging discrimination based, in part, on her sex and pregnancy. Following discovery, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.

Burden Shifting Analysis

Upon review of the motion, the court noted that a plaintiff alleging discrimination must show a prima facie case of discrimination by showing she belonged to a protected class, she was qualified for the position, she faced adverse employment action, and the facts raise an inference of discrimination. Here, the court noted that the defendant conceded that the plaintiff was qualified and in a protected class, but disputed that she faced an adverse employment action. The court disagreed, finding that her termination was clearly adverse. Further, the court noted that the comments and behavior of the plaintiff’s co-workers and supervisor raised an inference of discrimination. Specifically, she was told she could not work in the infant room because she was pregnant, and was described as “pregnancy crazy” by her supervisor. Additionally, when it was noted she should be placed in the infant room because it was less physical, she faced hostile reactions.

Mere Pretext

The court then addressed whether the defendant’s allegedly valid reasons for terminating the plaintiff were mere pretext. To survive a claim for summary judgment when the employer has set forth a nondiscriminatory reason for termination, the plaintiff must show evidence that throws the employer’s reason into question or that it was not a determining cause of the termination. Here. the court found that the defendant did not cite the 2009 violation of internal standards as a reason for the plaintiff’s termination during depositions, and the tape that depicted the incident where the child was injured was not reviewed. As such, the court showed there was sufficient evidence of pretext for the case to proceed.

Consult an Experienced New Jersey Employment Discrimination Attorney

If you were discriminated against in the workplace, you should consult an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorney to discuss whether you may be able to pursue damages. The skilled New Jersey employment discrimination attorneys of The Jaffe Glenn Law Group will work diligently to overcome any obstacles to your recovery and will keep you apprised of all developments in your case. We can be reached at 201-687-9977 or through our online form to set up a confidential meeting.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Court Affirms Dismissal of Employment Discrimination Case, December 7, 2018, New Jersey and New York Employment Lawyer Blog

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