Case: EEOC vs. Dimensions Healthcare Sys., No. PX15-2342 (D. Md. Sept. 2, 2016).
Issue: Pregnancy Discrimination
Court Holding: Employee provided sufficient evidence to defeat employer motion for summary judgment.
Employment Counsel: Telling employee that she did not get promotion because “you were on maternity leave for a while,” will likely expose employer to pregnancy discrimination liability.
Case Summary: In a September 2, 2016 decision, the Maryland U.S. District Court denied summary judgment for Dimensions Healthcare System in a case brought by the EEOC. When discussing why female employee did not receive promotion, manager allegedly stated: “Well, like I said, he had a management background. Plus, you were on maternity leave for a while.” When reading this statement, it is easy in hindsight to realize that if actually stated, saying that an employee did not receive a promotion because she was on “maternity leave for a while,” was incredibly foolish and likely will cost the employer (or its insurance company) significantly.
A plaintiff may survive summary judgment by establishing her Title VII discrimination claim either through direct and indirect evidence of discriminatory animus, or through the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under the direct method of proof, “[t]o avoid summary judgment, the plaintiff must produce direct evidence of a stated purpose to discriminate and/or [indirect] evidence of sufficient probative force to reflect a genuine issue of material fact.” Rhoads v. FDIC, 257 F.3d 373 , 391 (4th Cir. 2001).
Under the burden-shifting framework, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. Then, the burden shifts to the defendant who [*6] must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the defendant offers a legitimate reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the reason offered by the employer is false. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
To establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff must present facts upon which a jury could conclude that, more likely than not, the defendant’s failure to promote was motivated by sex discrimination. More specifically, the plaintiff must produce sufficient evidence to show that: 1) plaintiff is a member of a protected class; 2) defendant had an open position for which she applied or sought to apply; 3) plaintiff was qualified for the position; and 4) plaintiff was rejected for the position under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. See Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954 , 959-60 (4th Cir. 1996).
In this case, the District Court determined that the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment under both the direct evidence and the burden shifting tests. The case will now proceed to a jury trial or, more likely than not, the parties will reach a settlement.
For additional information about this case or other employment law matters, please contact Merritt Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703)556-6505. Mr. Green leads General Counsel, P.C.’s Employment Law Practiceand has been representing employers (and occasionally employees) for over 18 years.