“Wow, all these pregnant girls, what are we going to do with them?”
For the second time during this quiet week in late August, pregnancy is in the headlines.
The first time, of course, involved Rep. Todd Akin, a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Missouri who claimed – and then swiftly retracted – that women who are “legitimately raped” don’t get pregnant. That’s led pregnancy – and abortion politics – to dominate news coverage.
But here’s another story with pregnancy at its core: this week, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that a former buyer for fashion house Gucci can move forward with her case alleging that the luxury-goods company fired her after she became pregnant.
Former buyer Erica Crisses has a compelling story to tell about her termination, and it was enough for the court to deny Gucci’s motion for summary judgment on her claims that it violated federal and state civil rights laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on pregnancy. Crisses says that Gucci started slowly moving her out of her job after she told her supervisor and human resources manager she was pregnant: she says she was left off of emails dealing with merchandise she was buying, her suggestions were ignored, and her supervisor started going around her to subordinates. Eventually, a Gucci executive approached her, asked her about maternity leave, and then – in a page ripped from the Todd Akin script – said: “Wow, all these pregnant girls, what are we going to do with them?”
Shortly after that, Gucci America planned to terminate some of its buyers as part of a management overhaul. Its Human Resources director advised Gucci management that Crisses was in a protected class of employees because of her pregnancy, but Gucci went ahead and fired her – and several other buyers – anyway. Crisses then filed suit.
In its motion for summary judgment (see Jason Knott's post here on the mechanics of summary judgment in employment discrimination cases), Gucci argued that it didn’t fire Crisses because she was pregnant, but rather it eliminated her position as part of its management restructuring. The court rejected that argument, noting that Crisses’s former assistant had been promoted to a job that was almost identical to the job Crisses once held. The court also relied Crisses’s evidence that her pregnancy was an issue for many Gucci executives.
With Gucci’s motion denied because the facts surrounding Crisses’ termination are in dispute, both sides will move ahead to prepare to present more evidence at trial, although settlement is undoubtedly a possibility. We’ll keep an eye on this case.