Pregnancy Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, Retaliation Claims Survive Summary Judgment

In Graciani v. Patients Med., P.C., No. 13-CV-2751 NGG RLM, 2015 WL 5139199 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 1, 2015), the court held that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to overcome summary judgment on her pregnancy discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims.

Pregnancy Discrimination

In determining that plaintiff established a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination, the court noted that defendant(s) terminated plaintiff two weeks after she first announced her pregnancy, and that her boss “informed Plaintiff that she demoted her prior assistant due, at least in part, to pregnancy, made comments to Plaintiff regarding her own pregnancy, and changed her attitude toward Plaintiff in response to Plaintiff’s announcement that she was pregnant.”

In response, defendants proffered two “legitimate, non-discriminatory justifications” for plaintiff’s termination: (1) defendant was “suffering financially, necessitating employee lay-offs”, and (2) plaintiff performed poorly in her role as administrative assistance.

The court held “that a jury could reasonably find that Defendants’ justifications for the termination are pretextual-in other words, that sex/pregnancy discrimination was a motivating factor in the decision to terminate Plaintiff’s employment.”

As to plaintiff’s first proffered justification – financial concerns – the court noted that while “terminations as part of a broader restructuring process motivated by financial concerns satisfy a defendant’s burden to establish a legitimate, non-discriminatory business justification for an adverse action … even during a legitimate reorganization or workforce reduction, an employer may not dismiss employees for unlawful discriminatory reasons.”

In holding that a jury could find defendants’ justification that business is slow as a pretext for discrimination, the court noted (among other things) that plaintiff’s boss “required an administrative assistant even after Plaintiff’s termination, Patients Medical’s financial status notwithstanding”; that plaintiff was told that her reassignment to the position of administrative assistant was a promotion (and was not told that she “was being temporarily reassigned in order to delay her eventual termination due to a reduction in force”); and that plaintiff’s boss “indicated to Plaintiff that she would permanently replace her prior assistant, rather than serving only as a temporary assistant during the prior assistant’s upcoming maternity leave.”

In finding that a jury could reasonably find that defendants’ second alleged justification – plaintiff’s poor performance – was pretextual, the court noted (among other things) that plaintiff performed at least adequately or better (as evidenced by her earning employee of the month on one occasion); that plaintiff received compliments from her boss; that during the one meeting about plaintiff’s performance, the alleged performance deficiency resulting in plaintiff’s termination was not discussed; that there was no formal discipline of plaintiff or patient complaints; and that defendants expressed their willingness to re-hire plaintiff.


In upholding plaintiff’s retaliation claim, the court noted that plaintiff “offered evidence that her termination quickly followed her voicing her concerns about pregnancy discrimination to [plaintiff’s supervisor], and evidence that Defendants offered inconsistent explanations for her termination.”

Hostile Work Environment

In upholding plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim (under the New York, City Human Rights Law only), the court explained:

Plaintiff has presented evidence that upon announcing her pregnancy, Defendants (and in particular, Dr. Gulati) immediately changed the way they acted toward her, including telling Plaintiff to dress differently on multiple occasions and rushing her out of the bathroom. She has also presented evidence that Dr. Gulati (the owner of Patients Medical and at the time Plaintiff’s direct supervisor) told her that her prior administrative assistant’s pregnancy had negatively affected her performance. While this conduct was not objectively severe or pervasive[] enough to alter the conditions of employment as a matter of law under federal and state law, the enablers of the NYCHRL specifically envisioned a law that would “accomplish[ ] … uniquely broad and remedial purposes … regardless of whether federal or New York State civil and human rights laws, including those laws with provisions comparably worded to provisions of this title, have been so construed.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8–130. This appears to be such a case, and therefore Plaintiff’s NYCHRL hostile work environment claim may proceed to trial, notwithstanding the dismissal of her Title VII and NYSHRL hostile work environment claims.

No Individual Liability

Finally, the court dismissed plaintiff’s claims under the State and City Human Rights Laws against her supervisor, Penta, individually. It explained:

[A] reasonable jury could not find that Penta aided and abetted unlawful discrimination against Plaintiff-in other words, that she actually participated in the conduct giving rise to Plaintiff’s discrimination claim. The only evidence Plaintiff offers related to Penta’s participation is that she received Plaintiff’s informal complaint concerning a fear of discrimination, assigned work on limited occasions that may have been a normal part of the administrative assistant role, and communicated the termination to Plaintiff, and in doing so, made a comment that could be viewed as corroborating Plaintiff’s theory that Patients Medical discriminated against pregnant employees. From these limited facts, a jury could not find that Penta aided and abetted the other Defendants’ discriminatory and retaliatory acts, or their creation of a hostile work environment.

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