In New Jersey and across the country, there is a growing recognition that discrimination in all its forms is unethical, and in many cases illegal. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination protects citizens from a wide range of protected classes from being treated in a discriminatory or harassing way, allowing them to file lawsuits to protect their rights and to seek justice against those who have treated them unfairly. Similar actions are being taken elsewhere, including a recent lawsuit filed against a Philadelphia law firm by an ex-employee accusing them of pregnancy discrimination and retaliation.
Though the firm, Condo, Roccia, Koptiw, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the plaintiff had failed to make a case, U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania disagreed, indicating that Summer Uchin had presented sufficient facts for the case to move forward. Uchin claims that she had started work as a docking coordinator several years ago, during which time she was overseen by the firm’s three name partners and managing paralegal Jennifer Rassa. She provided evidence that during her early years with the firm she had received strong positive reviews of her performance as well as corresponding bonuses and pay raises each year, but that everything changed after she became pregnant in October 2015. Prior to revealing her pregnancy, she recalled hearing her supervisor discuss another employee’s pregnancy and saying that “nobody else better become pregnant because I cannot stand it,” and she said that after she informed management of her own pregnancy she was told that she would not be receiving a year-end bonus. This was blamed on an accounting error.
Uchin’s lawsuit outlines similar subsequent episodes, including being told that her midyear review was being cancelled until after her return from maternity leave, and that upon her return her supervisor refused to meet with her in person and stopped responding to her emails. When she complained about this behavior to higher ups she was assured that the matter would be investigated, but it was not. Further, she began to be criticized by management for poor communication following her return from maternity leave in 2016, and was not provided either a year-end bonus or a raise for that year. Upon completing a leave of absence due to a diagnosis of anxiety, she returned and was told that her employment was being terminated.
In ruling on the law firm’s motion to dismiss, Judge Beetlestone pointed out that a pregnancy discrimination claim under the rules of Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act requires proof that the employer was aware of the pregnancy, that the employee filing the discrimination claim was qualified for the position that they held, that there has been an adverse employment action and that a significant connection between the pregnancy and that adverse action existed. She ruled that there were sufficient facts to establish both discrimination and retaliation, as well as that upon Uchin having informed the firm of her pregnancy, the relationship “became strained.”