By: Jennifer Weitz, Esq. and Ty Hyderally, Esq.
In Kamara v. Wayfair, LLC, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 695, the District Court for the District of New Jersey denied Wayfair’s motion to dismiss, finding that plaintiff Mabendu Kamara’s Amended Complaint adequately demonstrated a connection between her pregnancy and her subsequent job termination, and that she adequately demonstrated severe or pervasive conduct resulting in a hostile work environment. The Court also pointed out that, generally, employment discrimination cases should not be dismissed at the outset of litigation, as Wayfair was attempting to do. Id. at *6.
Plaintiff Mabendu Kamara worked at Wayfair’s Cranbury, New Jersey warehouse. Id. at *1. Four months after she began, Kamara informed Wayfair that she was pregnant and requested light-duty work as an accommodation. Id. at *2. Wayfair approved Kamara’s request, but several instances of harassment occurred after Kamara disclosed her pregnancy. Kamara alleged that first, she was passed up for a promotion, while at the same time one of her coworkers was promoted and became her immediate supervisor. Id. Kamara claimed that she was both interested in and qualified for the supervisory position, but that Wayfair didn’t post it and did not give her an opportunity to apply for it. Id.
After Kamara’s coworker became her supervisor, he revoked her light-duty accommodation but provided no explanation, and gave Kamara a hard time about taking pregnancy-related breaks. Id. Kamara alleged that other employees “who required accommodations were not denied the same without legitimate explanation” and that her new supervisor did not hassle other workers the way he did Kamara. Id. at *3.
Then there were write-ups. Kamara alleged that Wayfair wrote her up in April 2019 for “unfounded” attendance violations. Id. After Kamara complained to HR, she was written up again for attendance violations. Id. Kamara continued to complain to Wayfair that it did not do anything to address or remedy her complaints. Wayfair’s response? It fired Kamara on May 6, 2019 due to her alleged lateness the week before, “which had not been brought to her attention previously.” Id.
Kamara’s complaint alleged three causes of action: violations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for sex-, race-, and pregnancy-based discrimination; violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for race-based discrimination; and violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) for sex-, race-, and pregnancy-based discrimination. Based on Wayfair’s response, the Court discussed Kamara’s claims under Title VII and the LAD.
The Court began its discussion by pointing out that claims under Title VII and the LAD are analyzed using the same standard. Id. at *5. It then discussed the two points focused on by both parties: whether Kamara’s Amended Complaint sufficiently alleged facts regarding the adverse employment actions to Kamara’s pregnancy and subsequent complaints about harassment, and whether the Amended Complaint sufficiently alleged severe or pervasive harassment. Id. at *6. The Court answered yes to both.
First, the Court found that four different adverse employment actions—failure to promote, failure to accommodate, baseless write-ups, and termination—occurred within three months after Wayfair learned of Kamara’s pregnancy. Id. at *7. Under the legal standard for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, which requires a court to “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,” the Court found that the Amended Complaint alleged a pattern of antagonism based on the two unfounded write-ups after Kamara complained. Id. at *8. The Court also found that the Amended Complaint sufficiently alleged that Wayfair treated Kamara worse than non-pregnant employees, and that non-pregnant employees did not receive baseless write-ups for lateness. This allowed the Amended Complaint to survive Wayfair’s motion to dismiss.
Second, the Court found that the Amended Complaint sufficiently alleged severe or pervasive harassment. Id. at *8-9. Severe or pervasive conduct must be “sufficient to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment.” Id. at *9. The Court specifically rejected Wayfair’s argument that the Court should only look at the revocation of Kamara’s light-duty accommodation, explaining that the Court looks to “all the circumstances—not just isolated incidents of discrimination.” Id. Thus, Kamara’s Amended Complaint was allowed to proceed.
Despite the protections afforded at both the federal and the state level, pregnancy discrimination continues to plague the workplace. For more information about pregnancy discrimination please search our blog page; you can also visit the following helpful links:
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