Friday, June 22, 2018
Woman Fired During Maternity Leave May Take Claim to Trial
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A woman who claims she was fired by Wells Fargo as retaliation for taking leave under the California Family Rights Act has presented evidence that demonstrates a triable issue of fact, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.
Circuit Judge Marsha S. Berzon and District Judge Sharon L. Gleason of the District of Alaska, sitting by designation, joined in Wednesday’s memorandum opinion which reversed, in part, a decision by District Judge Manuel L. Real of the Central District of California. Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee wrote a dissent, saying he would have affirmed Real’s decision in its entirety.
The bank employee, Paola Garcia, requested time off under the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) after giving birth. The leave was granted, but Wells Fargo employees came to her house and reclaimed her work equipment during her leave.
This, she said, indicated that she was fired for taking the leave. The majority opinion did not agree that her conclusion was based on a certainty, but they saw enough of a question of fact to reverse Real’s granting of summary judgment on that claim.
However, the court affirmed a grant of summary judgment for the bank on Garcia’s claim that she was passed over for a promotion because she was pregnant.
Question of Fact
Summary judgment on a claim for improper termination first requires the employee to make a prima facie showing that he or she was fired for a discriminatory reason.
Here, Garcia claimed to have been fired at the time the employees came to her house to reclaim her work equipment. Because this happened during her time off under the CFRA, the majority found that Garcia had made her prima facie causation case.
At that point, the opinion shifts the analysis to whether Wells Fargo had shown a non-discriminatory reason for firing her.
The bank claimed that Garcia, who worked as a junior home mortgage consultant in the Santa Clarita area, was fired because the bank was not doing enough business to justify her position. They presented evidence of a report stating that because of slow market, they were phasing out the junior home mortgage consultant job.
Possible Pretextual Reason
The majority noted that the report refers to several branches outside of the Santa Clarita area in explaining the market slowdown. They also noted Garcia’s testimony that one of the employees who picked up her equipment mentioned that someone else would be sitting at her desk, indicating that business was not actually slowing down.
The majority did not see either side’s evidence as overwhelming but saw room for a trier of fact to weigh both sides. *The opinion states:
“In sum, Garcia has presented sufficient, specific evidence that demonstrates a triable issue of fact as to whether Wells Fargo’s proffered explanation was not its actual motive for terminating Garcia. The evidence on both sides is limited, but which side’s limited evidence is more persuasive is a question for the trier of fact. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Wells Fargo on the wrongful termination claims and remand to the district court for further proceedings.”
Bybee disagreed that there was any triable question of fact presented. He pointed out that a home mortgage consultant said in her declaration that her “loan processing business began to decline as a result of the reduction in the refinancing market” and it was financially infeasible for her to continue to share her commissions with Garcia, a junior consultant.
Evidence showed it was the prerogative of a consultant to discontinue assistance by a junior consultant.
Collection of the office equipment, Bybee said, “does not provide any evidence undermining the proffered justification for Garcia’s termination,” adding:
“Nor is it likely that Garcia will be able to present any evidence substantiating her speculative arguments at trial.”
Noting her failure to take discovery, Bybee said “simply has no evidence that Wells Fargo’s proffered explanation for her termination is pretextual.”
Failure to Promote
Bybee joined in the majority’s opinion to the extent it affirmed Real’s granting of summary judgment on Garcia’s failure to promote claims.
Garcia claimed that the area manager, Adele Hassan, had made disparaging comments about pregnant women and stated she could not afford to promote one.
Wells Fargo presented evidence that the managers involved in passing over Garcia for a promotion had no knowledge of any animus Hassan had against pregnant women. The bank also showed that Hassan was not personally involved in the denial of Garcia’s promotion and that the person who ended up getting the promotion was more qualified than Garcia.
The case is Garcia v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 16-55881.
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