United States District Court, E.D. New York
June 20, 2005.
CRISTINA L. STAINKAMP, Plaintiff,
CHANGES INTERNATIONAL OF FORT WALTON BEACH, INC., TWINLAB LABORATORIES, INC., TWINLAB CORPORATION and W. STEVEN COGGIN Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SANDRA J. FEUERSTEIN, District Judge
OPINION & ORDER
Plaintiff Cristina Stainkamp ("Plaintiff" or "Stainkamp")
initiated this action against defendants Changes International of
Fort Walton Beach, Inc. ("Changes"), Twinlab Laboratories, Inc.,
Twinlab Corporation (together with Twinlab Laboratories, Inc.,
"Twinlab") and Changes' Chief Executive Officer, W. Steven Coggin
(collectively "Defendants") pursuant to Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and
the New York State Human Rights Law, New York Executive Law § 290
et seq. ("New York Human Rights Law"), alleging pregnancy
discrimination. Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants'
motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.
Stainkamp was employed by Changes from February 16, 1999 until
December 1, 1999. (Stainkamp Dep. at 5-6; Def. 56.1 Stmt, ¶ 4).
Originally hired as a Senior Director of Sales Support & Field Communication, she was the Senior Director of
Special Events at the time of her termination. (Stainkamp Aff. at
2). Changes is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Twinlab; both
companies market and sell nutritional supplements. (Def. 56.1
Stmt., ¶ 27; Coggin Aff., ¶ 2; Stainkamp Dep. at 90). As Director
of Special Events, Stainkamp was responsible for organizing Changes'
annual national convention and its "President's Club Incentive Trip."
(Stainkamp Dep. at 10; Def. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 4).*fn1
In September or October of 1999, as a result of declining
sales, Coggin testified that he was told to cut approximately
$700,000 from his proposed budget. (Coggin Dep. at 16). Coggin
asked Stainkamp to reduce expenditures for the convention and the
incentive trip by a total of $120,000. (Stainkamp Dep. at 10).
Coggin also claims that he decided to terminate Stainkamp at some
point in September or October, along with three other employees,
as part of these budget cuts. (Coggin Dep. at 16-17). Coggin
informed Fran Colombi, Changes' comptroller, of this decision
shortly thereafter. (Colombi Dep. at 11).
On October 4, 1999, Stainkamp discovered that she was pregnant.
(Stainkamp Dep. at 37). Stainkamp informed her secretary, Carol
Ann Scolaro, and Colombi of her pregnancy and asked them to keep
it a secret. (Id. at 40-41). According to Colombi, Stainkamp
told her that she did not want to publicize her pregnancy until
after the first trimester. (Colombi Dep. at 27).
Thomas Lupo, Changes' Vice President of Sales, testified that
Coggin informed him that Stainkamp was going to be terminated in
early November. (Lupo Dep. at 11). On November 23, 1999, Richard Perles, a Vice President in Changes' Human
Resources department, sent a memo to Joe Conklin requesting that
Conklin "prepare a General Release & Agreement . . . related to
the termination of Christina [sic] Stainkamp which is part of a
headcount reduction (position elimination) in the Change
organization." (Pietrantonio Aff. Ex. J) (emphasis in original).
Colombi testified that she approached Lupo towards the end of
November and informed him of Stainkamp's pregnancy. As Colombi
explained, "I told Tom Lupo, `Tom, listen, I don't know what's
the hold-up, but Cristina is pregnant and she is going to
announce it soon, and you know that might put the company in a
weird predicament." (Colombi Dep. at 80). According to Colombi,
Lupo responded "It's all in HR. There's nothing we can do.
Twinlab handles all that kind of stuff." (Id.) Colombi also
testified that, other than Lupo, she did not tell anyone that
Stainkamp was pregnant. (Id.; see also Stainkamp Dep. at 41).
On November 29, Stainkamp informed Coggin that she was
pregnant. (Stainkamp Dep. at 7). Stainkamp also testified that,
other than Colombi and Scolaro, she had not informed anyone else
at Changes until this point. (Id. at 38, 48). According to
Stainkamp, Coggin responded by asking her if it "was planned,"
stating that he hoped it was not "contagious," and telling her
"That's what you get for fooling around." (Id. at 75-76). On
December 1, 1999, Stainkamp was terminated. (Id. at 6).
III. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment should not be granted unless "the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,
together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c). A fact is material "if it might affect the outcome of the
suit under the governing law." Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 69
(2d Cir. 2001). An issue of fact is genuine only if a jury could
reasonably find in favor of the nonmoving party based on that
fact. Id. The moving party bears the initial burden of
establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact,
after which the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to establish
the existence of a factual question that must be resolved at
trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256
(1986). The trial court is required to construe the evidence in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and draw all
reasonable inferences in its favor. Id. at 252; Cifarelli v.
Vill. of Babylon, 93 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir. 1996).
The Second Circuit has recognized that direct evidence of
discriminatory intent is rare, and often must be inferred from
circumstantial evidence found in the pleadings. Holtz,
258 F.3d at 69. Thus, granting summary judgment in such cases should be
done with an extra measure of caution. However, if a
discrimination case is void of genuine issues of material fact,
summary judgment may be appropriate. Id. (citing McLee v.
Chrysler Corp., 109 F.3d 130, 135 (2d Cir. 1997)); see also
Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 239 F.3d 456, 466 (2d
Cir. 2001) ("It is now beyond cavil that summary judgment may be
appropriate even in the fact-intensive context of discrimination
In cases where there is no direct evidence of discrimination,
such as this case, there is a three-step burden-shifting analysis
applied to Title VII claims of intentional discrimination. See
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
Plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. at 802. To establish a
prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination, a plaintiff must
show that (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she
satisfactorily performed the duties required by her position; (3)
she was discharged; and (4) her position remained open and was
ultimately filled by a non-pregnant employee. Quaratino v.
Tiffany & Co., 71 F.3d 58, 64 (2d Cir. 1995); Sabatino v. Flik
Intern. Corp., 286 F. Supp. 2d 327, 333 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).
Alternatively, to satisfy the fourth prong, a plaintiff may show
the circumstances surrounding the discharge give rise to an
inference of unlawful discrimination. Quaratino, 71 F.3d at 64.
In cases in which the employer claims that the decision to
terminate was made prior to learning of the plaintiff's protected
status, the plaintiff must also "adduce some evidence, whether
direct or indirect, indicating a defendant's knowledge" of the
plaintiff's membership in the protected class. Woodman v.
WWOR-TV, Inc., 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 11060, at *37 (2d Cir., Jun.
13, 2005). As the Woodman court explained, in cases where a
plaintiff's membership in such a class is not necessarily
obvious, such as pregnancy or religion, "a defendant's
discriminatory intent cannot be inferred, even at the prima facie
stage, from circumstances unknown to the defendant." Id., at
*37; see also Geraci v. Moody-Tottrup, 82 F.3d 578, 581 (3d
Cir. 1996). A plaintiff must therefore produce some evidence
demonstrating that the employer was aware of her protected status
in order to establish a prima facie case. Woodman, 2005 U.S.
App. LEXIS, at *37.
If a plaintiff is able to establish a prima facie case, it
creates a presumption of the employer's unlawful discrimination.
Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254
(1981). The defendant may rebut this presumption by producing
evidence, which, if taken as true by a jury, would allow the
conclusion that there was a nondiscriminatory reason for the
dismissal. Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 42; Burdine,
450 U.S. at 254. The defendant's burden is to produce, not persuade, St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks,
509 U.S. 502, 507 (1993), as long as the evidence raises a genuine
issue of fact as to whether the employer discriminated against
the plaintiff. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254.
If the employer proffers evidence of a nondiscriminatory motive
for termination, the presumption of discrimination evaporates,
Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 42, and the burden shifts back to the
plaintiff, who, in order to survive a motion for summary
judgment, must offer evidence that suggests that the defendant's
proffered reason is pretext for intentional discrimination.
McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 803. The plaintiff's evidence
must be sufficient to allow a jury to infer that the dismissal
was actually motivated by discrimination. Grady v. Affiliated
Cent., Inc., 130 F.3d 553, 560 (2d Cir. 1997). However, the
"plaintiff is not required to show that the employer's proffered
reasons were false or played no role in the employment decision,
but only that they were not the only reasons and that the
prohibited factor was at least one of the `motivating' factors."
Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 196, 203 (2d Cir. 1995);
see also Hagelthorn v. Kennecott Corp., 710 F.2d 76, 82 (2d
Cir. 1983). To satisfy this burden, the plaintiff may rely on the
evidence presented in the prima facie case, without more.
Hicks, 509 U.S. at 510. Unless the employer presents a
dispositive, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination, to
which there is no genuine issue, and which no rational factfinder
could reject, the conflict between the plaintiff's prima facie
case and the defendant's nondiscriminatory reason presents a
question of fact to be resolved at trial. Cronin,
46 F.3d at 203.
A. Counts One and Two
Plaintiff has failed to adduce any evidence that Coggin was
aware of her pregnancy at the time he made the decision to
terminate her, and she has therefore failed to establish a prima
facie case. The Third Circuit's decision in Geraci is
instructive. See Geraci, 82 F.3d 578 (as cited in Woodman, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 11060). In that case, the
plaintiff claimed that she was unlawfully terminated because she
was pregnant. The defendants claimed that no discrimination could
have occurred, however, because the individuals who had made the
decision to terminate the plaintiff were not aware that she was
pregnant at the time the decision was made. The Third Circuit,
affirming the District Court's grant of summary judgment in favor
of the defendants, held that
[t]he traditional McDonnell Douglas-Burdine
presumption quite properly makes no reference to the
employer's knowledge of membership in a protected
class because, in the vast majority of discrimination
cases, the plaintiff's membership is either patent
(race or gender), or is documented on the employee's
personnel record (age discrimination). This case,
however, is different. We cannot presume that an
employer most likely practiced unlawful
discrimination when it does not know that the
plaintiff even belongs to the protected class. The
employer's knowledge, in this class of cases, is a
critical element of the plaintiff's prima facie case.
Geraci, 82 F.3d at 581. In applying this standard, the Court
noted that the plaintiff "was not visibly pregnant[,] . . . did
not tell [the company's] management, and she requested the six
friends and co-workers to whom she disclosed her pregnancy not
tell management." Id. at 582. Thus, because "her managers filed
declarations disclaiming knowledge, and [plaintiff] presented no
evidence to the contrary," the Court held that summary judgment
In the present case, there is documentary evidence that the
decision to terminate Stainkamp had been made by November 23,
1999. (Pietrantonio Aff. Ex. J). In order to survive summary
judgment, then, Plaintiff must "adduce some evidence," Woodman,
2005 U.S. App. LEXIS at *37, that the person who decided to
terminate her, be it Coggin or someone else, knew of her
pregnancy on or before this date. Plaintiff has failed to do so.
Coggin testified that he learned of Stainkamp's pregnancy from
Colombi on either November 28 or November 29. (Coggin Dep. at
23). Plaintiff has not presented any evidence disputing this
testimony or otherwise indicating that Coggin had knowledge on an earlier
date. Indeed, Plaintiff has conceded that she does not have any
information that "anybody informed Mr. Coggin before November
29th of [her] pregnancy," (Stainkamp Dep. at 48), and that she
does not know if the decision to terminate her was made before or
after she disclosed her pregnancy. (Id. at 7). Furthermore,
Plaintiff has not presented any evidence that someone other than
Coggin made the decision to terminate her, and did so with
knowledge of her pregnancy. Plaintiff's speculation as to why
Coggin asked her to work on certain projects in October and
November if he had already decided to terminate her, (Stainkamp
Aff., ¶ 15), is insufficient to withstand summary judgment. As
the Woodman court noted, it is "well established that
conclusory statements, conjecture, or speculation are inadequate
to defeat a motion for summary judgment." Woodman, 2005 U.S.
App. LEXIS, at *44 (internal quotations and citations omitted).
Thus, as in Geraci, the defendants have "disclaim[ed]
knowledge, and [Plaintiff has] presented no evidence to the
contrary." Geraci, 82 F.3d at 582. Plaintiff has therefore
failed to establish a prima facie case for Counts One and Two.
B. Counts Three and Four
Counts Three and Four of Stainkamp's complaint allege that
Defendants' policy requiring pregnant employees to notify the
Human Resources Department of the pregnancy and obtain a
certification from a health care provider violates Title VII and
the New York Human Rights Law. Defendants assert that summary
judgment is appropriate because (1) the policy does not
discriminate against pregnant employees, and (2) Plaintiff was
not adversely affected by the policy. In support of the first
argument, Defendants cite Mazzella v. RCA Global Communications,
Inc., 642 F. Supp. 1531 (S.D.N.Y. 1986). In that case, Judge
Conner held that the policy at issue did not violate Title VII
because it did not "not require a pregnant female employee to advise [the company] as soon as she learns of her
pregnancy." Id. at 1548-49 (emphasis in original). Rather, it
merely "asks that an employee, male or female, who expects to
become disabled at a predictable future time, for whatever
reason, to advise [the company] of that fact for work force
planning purposes." Id. at 1549. By contrast, the Twinlab
policy states that "[a]n employee who becomes pregnant is
required to notify the Human Resources Department of her
condition upon discovery of her pregnancy and submit written
medical documentation from a health care provider stating she may
safely continue in her current position without restriction."
(Simmons Aff., Ex. 13 at 16) (emphasis added). There are no
advance notice and certification requirements for other,
non-pregnancy conditions. See also EEOC Guidelines,
29 CFR Part 1604 Appendix ("An employer may not single out pregnancy-related
conditions for special procedures for determining an employee's
ability to work."). Since there is a genuine issue as to whether
the policy discriminates against pregnant employees, summary
judgment is inappropriate.
Defendants' second argument, that Plaintiff was not adversely
affected by the policy because she did not follow it, is equally
without merit. In the event the policy is found to be
discriminatory, Defendants cannot escape liability because
Plaintiff did not comply with it. See Harriss v. Pan American
World Airways, Inc., 74 F.R.D. 24, 50, n. 24 (N.D. Cal. 1977)
("The Court rejects defendant's claim that plaintiff, having
never . . . sought leave for pregnancy related conditions, lacks
standing to attack the disability leave program. As a woman of
child-bearing age, if for no other reason, plaintiff is certainly
`aggrieved' within the meaning of [Title VII], by a policy which
may be discriminatory in respect of pregnancy or maternity
benefits."); see also EEOC Decision No. 76-89 (Jan 23, 1976)
("[A]ny employee, black or white, has standing to file a charge
of employment discrimination alleging the existence of any unlawful employment practice, because it constitutes a term or
condition of employment for all employees. Although the Charging
Party is not a member of the class against which the allegedly
unlawful practices are directly committed, we believe it clear
that an employee's legitimate interest in the terms and
conditions of his or her employment comprehends the right to work
in an atmosphere free of unlawful employment practices and their
For the reasons set forth above, Defendants' motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED on Counts One and Two, and DENIED on Counts
Three and Four.