Case #6: Employment Law
Plaintiff Suzy Smith is a female of Indian descent. In 2011, she was hired by Acme School as a guidance counselor. Ms. Smith was very qualified for her job and performed satisfactorily throughout her employment. Around November 2012, Ms. Smith took an approved maternity leave through June of 2013.
In November of the following school year, Jimmy Jones was hired as the new superintendent of Acme School, replacing the superintendent who had approved of Ms. Smith’s maternity leave. In March of 2014, Mr. Jones informed Ms. Smith that her contract would be renewed for the following school year.
The following month, Ms. Jones was informed that, because of her maternity leave, her tenure track had been interrupted. This caused her tenure decision to be pushed to January of 2015. Mr. Jones explained that her maternity leave was inconvenient to Acme School, and as a result, he would not agree to renew her contract for the following school year. Mr. Jones advised Ms. Smith that non-tenured staff was not supposed to take extended maternity leave and that doing so had hurt her chance of continued employment.
A few days later, Ms. Smith discovered that non-U.S. citizens are ineligible for tenure. She was not a United States citizen at the time; she held permanent residence. After discovering this, Ms. Smith emailed Mr. Jones to inform him that she was ineligible for tenure due to her non-citizenship. Because of her ineligibility, his reason for not renewing her contract was now open to discussion. She explained that she wanted to remain employed at Acme School and that she would be more than willing to be mentored by a more experienced counselor.
On or about May 1, 2014, Ms. Smith and Mr. Jones met regarding Ms. Smith’s email and her employment. In the meeting, Mr. Jones reiterated that he would not recommend the renewal of Ms. Smith’s contract for the following year. He said that because he was a new superintendent and because he had only been serving for five months, he was not comfortable with committing to Ms. Smith, as she was ineligible for tenure. In an attempt to convince Ms. Smith to resign, Mr. Jones offered a choice: if she were “terminated,” she could collect benefits, but he would not give her a recommendation for future employment. Alternatively, if she resigned, she would not be able to collect benefits, but he would provide a recommendation wherever she applied.
Mr. Jones then stated that the real reason Ms. Jones’ was not being renewed was that she had been out on maternity leave the prior year. Then, he said that it was because Ms. Smith is “culturally different” and that she did not grasp the “dysfunctionality of Americanism.” Perhaps realizing that his remarks were insensitive, Mr. Jones offered another reason: there had been six complaints by parents about Ms. Smith—although Ms. Smith had never been told about any complaints before. Ms. Smith responded that she was had not been given the opportunity to resolve any issues or complaints, and asked “what the real reason” was for her termination. Mr. Jones dismissed Ms. Smith’s concerns, rudely cut her off, and told her that the meeting was over.
Ms. Smith interviewed for a position at another school in or around June 2014. She was strongly recommended for the job by the counselor at that school who was scheduled to go on maternity leave. Though Ms. Smith thought that the interview had gone very well, she did not hear back for several weeks. When she inquired about the status of her application, she was informed that Mr. Jones had given her a poor reference and told the district not to hire her. She was left unemployed with no benefits—despite Mr. Jones’ statements when she left Acme School. Mr. Jones admitted to telling the district that they should hire another candidate. She did not get the job.
In response to Mr. Jones’ interference with Ms. Smith’s job search, Ms. Smith filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, calling into question Mr. Jones’ behavior toward Ms. Smith during her employment at Acme School. In response, Mr. Jones continued to interfere and retaliate against Ms. Smith.
In or around July 2015, Ms. Smith interviewed with another public school. She had been highly recommended by someone who was resigning from the school and had been employed there for more than six years. Ms. Smith explained to the assistant principal of the school that she and Mr. Jones had not worked together very long and that they did not part on the best terms. She suggested that the assistant principal check with any of her other supervisors, who were more than likely to provide a positive recommendation.
After the interview, Ms. Smith was told she would hear back with a decision within two weeks. However, she never received any communication from the school, causing her to suspect that Mr. Jones had interfered with her interview process at this school as well.
Suzy Smith sued Jimmy Jones and Acme School for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, alleging discrimination based on sex, pregnancy, and national origin and intentional interference with her prospective economic advantage.
If an employer has taken adverse action against you based on your sex, national origin, pregnancy, or other prohibited reason, an experienced employment attorney can help you enforce your rights. Contact the Mark Law Firm to discuss the facts of your New Jersey employment law case and how we can help.