Pregnancy & Gender Discrimination Claims Survive Summary Judgment, Notwithstanding Reduction-in-Force Rationale for Termination

In Smolyn v. Tyco Integrated Sec. LLC, No. 1:14-CV-56 (GLS/CFH), 2016 WL 4120325 (N.D.N.Y. July 28, 2016), the court held that plaintiff presented enough evidence to survive summary judgment on her pregnancy and gender discrimination claims.

As to plaintiff’s pregnancy discrimination claim, the court explained:

The court finds that a jury could reasonably conclude that defendants’ justifications for the termination are pretextual, and that pregnancy discrimination was a motivating factor in the decision to terminate Smolyn. Defendants presented the testimony of Poole and Marbes indicating that Smolyn’s span of control and her distance from the offices she managed was the reason for her termination. (Dkt. No. 40, Attach. 9 at 5-6, 31; Dkt. No. 40, Attach. 10 at 12, 16, 18.) Marbes defined “span of control” as the number of salespeople reporting to a sales manager. (Dkt. No. 40, Attach. 10 at 16.) Meanwhile, Smolyn has presented some evidence that she managed a similar number of employees as Maciag, and that her performance was better than that of Maciag. To that end, Poole’s own deposition testimony indicates that, at the time she was let go, Smolyn managed five sales representatives between the Albany, Vermont, and Springfield offices, and that she had gotten approval to hire one additional sales representative for the Albany office, while Maciag supervised six sales representatives.14 (Dkt. No. 42, Attach. 7 at 22, 24-25.)

Although defendants contend that the number of sales representatives whom each manager managed before Smolyn was terminated “is inconsequential” because “one of the goals of the realignment was to ensure that the sales managers had an equal span of control and lived in close proximity to their district,” (Def.’s Supplemental SMF ¶ 36), the court agrees with Smolyn that this evidence, which indicates that Smolyn and the person who replaced her actually managed a similar number of employees at the time the decision to fire her was made, when viewed in the light most favorable to Smolyn, casts doubt on at least one of defendants’ justification for plaintiff’s termination, namely span of control. When coupled with the circumstances surrounding Smolyn’s termination, including the timing of her firing, her consistently favorable performance evaluations, and the evidence that her performance was superior to that of the employee who replaced her, a reasonable jury could find that defendants’ justification for her firing was a pretext for pregnancy discrimination. … While a jury is free to reject the evidence that Smolyn puts forth and accept defendants’ explanation, because Smolyn has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendants’ reason for terminating her position is false and as to whether it is more likely that Smolyn’s pregnancy was a motivating factor in her termination, the evidence before the court does not warrant summary judgment.

As to plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim, the court explained:

The fact that the only female manager Poole managed in October 2012, out of six employees, was chosen for termination, along with the previously discussed evidence indicating that Smolyn’s job performance was better than that of the employee who replaced her, and Poole’s alleged comments about the differences between men and women with respect to their needs to care for their children, present circumstances which give rise to an inference sufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment that gender was impermissibly considered in deciding which sales manager to fire.

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