A pregnancy discrimination complaint has been lodged with New York’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against SoulCycle by one of its former executives. Jordan Kafenbaum had been the company’s senior director of instructor programming and talent management when she was laid off shortly after giving birth. Prior to being let go and shortly after announcing her pregnancy, she was demoted.
According to the complaint, Ms. Kafenbaum had been with the organization for almost seven years when she gave birth on March 25th. Thirty-two days later she was told that her position was being eliminated as a result of economic issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Ms. Kafenbaum asserts that the real reason that she was let go was because she had gotten pregnant: she points to having been re-assigned to a position that she considered a demotion shortly after revealing her pregnancy and having been given ‘inconsistent excuses’ as to why she would be in a different position after her maternity leave had concluded.
The company has defended her layoff by claiming that it had to institute “necessary restructuring due to the impact of Covid-19.” A public statement pointed to having paid Ms. Kafenbaum severance, as well as to having compensated her for her entire maternity leave. But the complaint against the company cites numerous examples that run contrary to the organization’s publicly stated values of equality and inclusion, including three other female SoulCycle employees having their positions eliminated following either revealing their pregnancy or returning from maternity leave, as well as an August 2019 incident in which Gary Gaines, the company’s senior vice president of global operations and studio experience, was dissuaded from taking time off following the birth of his own child by then CEO Melanie Whelan, who told him “paternity leave is for pussies.”
Under federal law, individuals who believe that they have been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy) and a host of other categories must first file a charge with the EEOC. Once the organization closes its investigation the victim may request a Notice of Right to Sue and then file a lawsuit in either federal or state court within 90 days. The EEOC can also decide to take action if they find that the law has been broken.
In addition to federal law, the state of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination provides protections for pregnant workers. Unlike Federal law, under New Jersey law, victims of discrimination are not required to first file in an administrative agency. New Jersey law provides even greater protections to pregnant workers than Federal. New Jersey not only protects against discrimination due to pregnancy, it also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations due to pregnancy, and pregnancy-related issue such as accommodating breast-feeding.
If you believe that you have been the victim of employment discrimination due to your pregnancy, you need the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. To speak with one of our compassionate lawyers, contact us today to set up a time for a consultation.