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From the evidence, it is clear that both the EEOC and the MCAD have jurisdiction in this case.
- 1. Was the complaint filed in a timely manner? Yes, it was filed within 180 days of the alleged violation to comply the EEOC guidelines and within 300 days to comply with the MCAD guidelines. The violation occurred on January 23, 2006 and the complaint was filed seven days later on January 30, 2006.
- 2. Are the employer and employee covered by Title VII or related laws? Yes, the employer is covered under The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1979 which is an amendment to Title VII (15 or more employees for 20 or more weeks per year) and under Massachusetts state law (6 or more employees). All employers covered by Title VII are covered by the pregnancy discrimination act. Marie Sarducci is an employee under the act and not an exception because of being a political appointee or federal contractor.
- 3. Is the complaint covered by Title VII or related laws? Yes, the complainant is alleging pregnancy discrimination which is covered by The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1979, an amendment to Title VII and a form of illegal sex discrimination. This is also covered under Massachusetts law.
- 4. Does the complainant have standing to file? Yes, because the complainant is the victim claiming the discrimination.
- 5. Was the complaint properly filed? We assume so since both the EEOC and MCAD staff assist the complainant in the process.
2. What definition would be appropriate for the facts of the case?
From the facts of this case, it is evident that the appropriate definition of discrimination would be Disparate Treatment. Disparate Treatment discrimination occurs when an employer treats individuals less favorably than others based on race, sex, color, religion, national origin, age, or disability status. At face value, it appears as though Sarducci was treated differently and subsequently fired once it was known by her employer that she was pregnant. If true, this is a direct violation of The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1979 which is covered under Title VII as a form of sex discrimination.
3. How would a plaintiff demonstrate a prima facie case?
The plaintiff would have to demonstrate a prima facie case by using comparative evidence that she was treated differently once it was known she was pregnant, which is in violation of Title VII, specifically The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1979.
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When Sarducci told her supervisor she was pregnant, she was warned not to tell anyone else at the company and that it would be best to break the news to Priscilla Dawson, the owner of the company, at a later time. This fact alone implies that a negative outcome or treatment could come from the pregnancy and Sarducci would likely use this information in establishing her case.
Once it was know by Dawson that Sarducci was pregnant, she was not given the year end bonus that she was promised. When she asked why she didn’t receive the bonus, her supervisor told her that Dawson simply thought she was “not qualified” for her sales position and no further detail was given. One month later, Sarducci was terminated by Dawson against the recommendation of Sarducci’s supervisor for the reason that she was “not qualified” as a sales manger. Once again, no additional details were given as to why or how she was “not qualified.” Soon after, Sarducci’s supervisor wrote her an excellent recommendation letter stating that Sarducci’s “administrative skills, attention to detail, work ethic and ability to communicate were outstanding.” This excellent recommendation letter seems to dispute the fact that she was “not qualified” for the position. This letter implies a discriminatory intent from Dawson and the motive behind not paying the bonus that was promised to Sarducci, and it raises questions about the negative treatment from Dawson and the subsequent firing. The plaintiff would likely use this information to support her case and try to show a pattern of disparate treatment because of her pregnancy.
To bolster her case, Sarducci would also want to point out that this employer had a history of terminating pregnant women, which is the case of her predecessor, Laurie Messenberg. Despite Messenberg’s having a very good sales record and receiving positive feedback from Dawson before becoming pregnant, Dawson became cold and hostel when she found out and then terminated Messenberg during her fifth month of pregnancy. Prior to becoming pregnant, Messenberg had also received a bonus and a raise within her first year on the job, which strengthens the case that Dawson was very pleased with her work and then changed her treatment solely on the basis of her pregnancy. When comparing the pre-pregnancy treatment of both Sarducci and Messenberg, to the treatment after they became pregnant, it clearly suggests a discriminatory motive and the disparate treatment of a member of a protected class. The plaintiff would use the change in attitude and treatment by her employer as evidence to demonstrate a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination.
4. What would be an appropriate employer defense?
In this case the employer would have to articulate a non-discriminatory reason for their actions, present evidence that the charging party’s facts are incorrect or present evidence that the individuals compared are not similarly situated. Statistical comparisons would be inappropriate in this case because the numbers are not large enough to establish statistical evidence when comparing the protected group to other employees of the company.
As a defense, the employer could state that Sarducci did not receive her bonus and was terminated not because she was pregnant, but for another nondiscriminatory reason like the fact that she had poor sales numbers and therefore was not qualified to be a sales manager. The employer could counter the recommendation letter from Sarducci’s supervisor by stating that there was no mention of sales skills and that Sarducci may have had other good qualities, but was fired because of her poor sales ability, which is an important trait to have in a sales manager position.
The employer could defend the charge of “having a history of terminating pregnant” by disputing that Messenberg had a good sales record and stating that she was fired for other nondiscriminatory reasons like excessive absenteeism, low productivity and dishonesty. The employer would also want to defend the charge of pregnancy discrimination by mentioning that of the 30 people in the Boston showroom, 24 were woman and 5 had become pregnant during their employment without losing their jobs.
5. What would be an appropriate response by the plaintiff to the employer’s defense?
Here the plaintiff would have to prove that the respondent’s reasons were pretextual.
The plaintiff would dispute the fact that she was “not qualified” for her sales manager position and that her pregnancy was the real reason that she did not receive the bonus and was terminated. Sarducci could dispute this by proving that her sales numbers were good and that she met her sales goals.
Sarducci would also question the reason for her predecessor Messenberg’s firing and attempt to show it would be unlikely for Messenberg to suddenly become dishonest, have excessive absenteeism or low productivity after a year of having a good sales record and receiving positive feedback from Dawson including a bonus and raise. Sarducci would point out that when it became know that Messenberg was pregnant, the employer suddenly changed her mind and began treating her differently because of the pregnancy. Sarducci would have to prove that the reasons for firing Messenberg were related to her pregnancy, which by law an employer has to accommodate. An example would be excessive absenteeism related to doctor’s appointments or low productivity due to typical pregnancy issues like morning sickness or excessive tiredness.
Sarducci would also point out that the sales manager position is a highly visible position requiring constant interaction with customers. If the five other pregnant employees, that the employer sites as a defense against disparate treatment, were lower level, non-customer facing positions, Sarducci could attempt to prove the employer has a track record of discriminating against pregnant women in similar roles, such as Messenberg and herself. Sarducci would introduce the fact that when Messenberg was interviewing for the sales manger position, Dawson asked whether or not she planned on having children and told Messenberg that she hoped that she would not become pregnant while employed at the company. Additionally, Sarducci would want to get a statement form her supervisor, who seemed to be aware of a possible negative out come resulting from her pregnancy. If the supervisor has been witness to the employer’s patterns of discrimination, he would be a credible witness in Sarducci’s favor.
6. Based on the facts as you have presented them, please discuss who you think would win the case.
Provided the plaintiff was able to prove that she had a good sales record in addition to the other outstanding work qualities mentioned in her recommendation letter, it would be very difficult for the employer to claim she was “not qualified” for the position. In this scenario Sarducci would have a very good chance of winning this case as one can infer from the evidence that there was a discriminatory motive behind the plaintiff’s treatment.
If the plaintiff was able to prove that all five other employees who had become pregnant while working for Dawson were in lower level non-visible positions and did not work directly with customers then it would be difficult for the employer to compare their situation to Sarducci’s. This information would strengthen the case for the plaintiff.
If the employer could prove that Sarducci’s sales numbers were not met on a consistent basis and that she truly did not have good sales skills, then the evidence would suggest a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for Sarducci not receiving the bonus and being terminated.
If the employer could prove the five other employees were in similar customer-facing positions to Sarducci then it would be much harder to infer intentional disparate treatment because of pregnancy.
In reviewing the evidence and scenarios above it is apparent that the plaintiff has a stronger case and would likely prevail in the end.
7. What remedies, if any, would be appropriate?
If Sarducci prevails, she would be entitled to a Cease and Desist order against the employer, “make whole” remedies, like receiving her bonus, back pay, front pay, until or in lieu of getting her job back, and attorney fees. She would also be entitled to emotional distress, compensatory and punitive damages of up to $50,000. Affirmative Action damages would not apply in a disparate treatment case.
If the employer prevails, no remedies are warranted.