Timing of layoff maximized employee’s benefits, so no pregnancy bias or FMLA retaliation

Granting summary judgment against a former MetLife employee’s state-law pregnancy discrimination and FMLA claims, a federal district court in Rhode Island pointed out that her layoff was timed to maximize her benefits, it was undisputed that she was the most junior person in her department, she was not replaced after her layoff, the others laid off were male, and other females who took maternity leave were not laid off. Most significantly, the employer first delayed the employee’s layoff, which resulted in her continued employment and health benefits for the remainder of her pregnancy, and then moved up her layoff date by about two weeks so she could qualify for enhanced severance benefits that were only available in 2012.

The employee worked for MetLife as a marketing analyst in the product marketing group. Of the 15 employees in that group, it was undisputed that the employee was the least experienced and held the lowest level position. In early 2012, the vice president of marketing was informed that the company needed to cut his budget by 8 percent as part of an expense reduction plan and larger corporate reorganization. He decided to eliminate three positions, including a marketing consultant (male), an individual from the research department (male), and the employee, who was pregnant at the time and planned to take FMLA leave.

Layoff timed to benefit employee.

Days before the May 21 layoff, the VP learned that the employee’s spouse was about to be laid off from his job as contractor for MetLife. Concerned about the effect of both the employee and her spouse losing their income at the same time, the VP delayed her termination, though the other two individuals were laid off. The employee went on maternity leave the following October, first as paid leave and then unpaid as of December 21. While her 12 weeks of FMLA leave was scheduled to conclude the first week of January 2013, the VP learned that MetLife was offering an enhanced severance program only for employees laid off during 2012. After determining that it would be more financially advantageous to lay the employee off in 2012, the VP moved up her layoff date to December 26, 2012.

No pregnancy discrimination.

Adopting a magistrate judge’s recommendation and granting summary judgment against the employee’s state-law pregnancy discrimination claim, the court found it was undisputed that she was the most junior employee in her group and her position was eliminated because she had less experience than the others in the group. Furthermore, two of the three employees affected by the budget reduction were male. In addition, other females in the employee’s group had taken maternity leave before and were not laid off; one was actually promoted after taking two maternity leaves in quick succession. The employee also failed to show that she was replaced after her layoff.

While the employee asserted that she was denied more than a week and a half of her leave, as well as group health benefits, the record showed that MetLife manipulated the timing of the layoff so as to benefit her. Indeed, the delay of her layoff resulted in her continued employment and health coverage for the remainder of her pregnancy and only after the VP learned it would benefit the employee did he move up her layoff date by two weeks.

The court also rejected the employee’s assertion that an administrative assistant should have been laid off if MetLife really wanted to layoff the most junior employee. The administrative assistant also performed work for other departments and, of the individuals in the employee’s group, it was undisputed that the employee had the least marketing experience. In sum, the actual events underlying this case did not support the employee’s pregnancy discrimination claim.

FMLA retaliation and interference claims fail too.

For largely the same reasons, the court tossed the employee’s FMLA claims as well. It again pointed to the VP’s efforts to maximize her benefits after the decision was made to eliminate her position in a mandated budget reduction. The VP’s efforts resulted in her receiving all of her fully paid maternity leave and most of her FMLA leave. The decision to accelerate her layoff shortly before her FMLA leave was to end was only made after the VP ascertained that the employee would receive an enhanced severance package that was only available through the end of 2012. For all those reasons, summary judgment was appropriate.

SOURCE: Greenman v. Metropolitan Casualty and Insurance Co. (D RI), No. 15-004-ML, June 6, 2017.
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