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When Your Denied Promotion May Be the Basis of an Employment Discrimination Claim in New Jersey

In most employment discrimination cases, your employer probably is going to come armed with a great many explanations as to why the actions it took were legitimate and permissible. In those cases, the first step often is not to prove conclusively that discrimination occurred; rather, your first goal is to defeat your employer’s motion for summary judgment, which means simply establishing that your evidence is sufficient to show that a genuine factual dispute exists. As you seek to do that (and eventually to proceed forward with your case,) an experienced New Jersey sex discrimination lawyer can help you ensure that your case possesses the evidence and the arguments needed to get past summary judgment and get your day in court before a factfinder.

A.B.’s sex discrimination case was one where establishing that genuine issue of disputed fact was crucial.

In 2008, A.B.’s employer hired her as a manager in its finance department. Two years earlier, it hired R.V., a man, to a manager position in the same department. In 2011, the employer promoted both to senior manager.

Six years later, both sought promotions to director. The employer promoted the male senior manager, but not A.B. In its defense, the employer offered several legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons to support its actions. It asserted that R.V. had “distinguished himself” by taking on “substantial responsibilities beyond the regular scope of his position.” He also allegedly “played an integral role in a project that involved the “most significant change to U.S. GAAP [Generally Accepted Accounting Principles] in more than a decade.”

A.B., on the other hand, allegedly failed to take on any special projects and even handed off some of the assignments the employer gave her. According to the employer, A.B. ceased managing 401(k) audits because they conflicted with her other tasks and the combination of assignments was “too challenging.”

This all sounds very convincing but it only is one side of the story and, according to A.B., represented an incomplete set of facts. She alleged that, during the relevant period, she took on many special projects like the employer’s stock split, a stock plan system transition, a database implementation, and the successful completion of an “Executive Leadership Institute for Women.”

That was enough to defeat her employer’s motion for summary judgment. In any discrimination case where the employer successfully puts forth legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions, the burden falls on you to establish that the stated reasons the employer gave really were just pretexts for its discriminatory motives.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings directly impact federal cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) decided that a reasonable juror (or judge in the case of a bench trial) could find that the reasons A.B.’s employer gave were pretextual on two possible bases.

A Matter of Potentially Suspicious Timing

One of the two, as happens frequently in winning discrimination cases, had a lot to do with the timing of certain key events. Initially, A.B.’s supervisor had rated her as “promotable” but other higher-ranking employees later downgraded the woman’s rating. Neither the company’s chief financial officer nor its corporate controller could explain the specific reasons why the woman received the downgrade. Perhaps not coincidentally, that downgrade took place just a few months before the employer promoted R.V. (the male senior manager.)

According to the court, the combination of that lack of explanation coupled with the downgrade’s occurrence around the same time as R.V.’s promotion constituted “a genuine dispute” as to whether the employer denied A.B. a promotion for its stated reasons or because of discrimination.

Additionally, a legitimate factual dispute existed regarding the employer’s explanation that A.B. offloaded projects and never took on any special tasks. She presented, according to the court, a two-page list of projects she worked on. The employer asserted that none of those were promotion-worthy but didn’t explain why.

Furthermore, the employer’s decision to count A.B. exiting the 401(k) audits project against her was possibly additional proof of discrimination. As the court pointed out, the woman’s direct supervisor signed off on the change, gave her a mostly positive performance review in her next evaluation after the change, and still deemed her “promotable” after the change. Given those alleged facts, a reasonable juror could determine that holding A.B.’s exit from the 410(k) audit project against her was improper.

We all go to work hoping to be judged on the merits of what we do, not on our sex, gender, race, age, or other protected characteristics. When you don’t get that, you may have endured illegal employment discrimination and the diligent New Jersey sex discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. Contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 today to set up a free and confidential consultation to discuss how we can put our knowledge, skills, and experience to work for you.

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