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Ramos v. Piller

October 29, 2009

NICOLE RAMOS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PILLER, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John F. Keenan, United States District Judge

Opinion & Order

Plaintiff Nicole Ramos ("Ramos") brings this suit alleging gender discrimination based on pregnancy against Defendant Piller, Inc. ("Piller"), her former employer, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and the New York Human Rights Law ("the HRL"), New York Executive Law § 296. Piller has moved*fn1 for summary judgment on grounds that Ramos has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, and further contends that even if Ramos has established a prima facie case of discrimination, she has failed to rebut the legitimate, non-discriminatory reason proffered by the Defendant for the termination of Plaintiff's employment. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is denied.

BACKGROUND

All facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. Piller produces high performance power protection systems and converters, with its principal New York office located in Middletown, New York. Piller hired Ramos as a full-time employee under the title "Accounts Receivable" in June 2002. In this capacity, according to Ramos, she worked as an accountant and projects administrator and was also responsible for accounts receivable. Ramos earned a bachelor's degree in American Studies from the University of Maryland but had no accounting background.

In February 2003, while working for Piller, Ramos learned that she was pregnant with her first child. She took maternity leave without incident. Ramos claims to have learned she was pregnant with her second child on February 2, 2006, and began to tell friends and family shortly thereafter.

On February 9, 2006, Piller promoted one Michael Haber ("Haber") to the position of Financial Controller and the head of the Finance Department. The weekend immediately following his promotion, Haber prepared an initial plan to, among other things, reorganize Piller's Finance Department. Haber met with members of the Finance Department on February 13, 2006, and on or around that date presented to Piller President Michael Barron ("Barron") a document entitled "Concerns and Improvement Opportunities," dated February 12, 2006. This initial plan contemplated hiring additional staff and proposed the following description for Ramos' responsibilities in the restructured Finance Department:

Accounts Receivable, Billing -- Nicole, [sic] will be cross-trained to handle Inventory, Fixed Assets, Credit and Collection and Accounts Payable, Project Accounting. The communication with the project managers and sales departments must be improved. This position will participate in the project review meetings to eliminate shipping and invoicing problems.

See "Plan of Reorganization," Defendant's Appendix p. 34. Ultimately, Barron rejected Haber's request to hire additional personnel.

In mid-February 2006, Ramos informed her Finance Department co-worker, Sarah Stopyra, and Barron's Executive Assistant, Ethel Crow, that she was pregnant with her second child. According to Ramos and Stopyra, Ramos tried to inform Sandy Piazza of her pregnancy, believing Piazza handled the Human Resources function for Piller, but was rebuffed by Piazza, who claimed to be solely a tax accountant and who denied any responsibility for Piller's Human Resources function. Ramos also claims she informed Haber that she was pregnant in mid-February. Both parties agree that Haber submitted his initial plan to reorganize the Finance Department without knowledge of Ramos' pregnancy.

The parties also agree that during a visit to Piller in February 2006, Bernard Watson, President of Langley Holdings, PLC - Piller's parent company - praised Ramos' work. On the same date, Watson suggested to Ramos that she might take some accounting courses which, according to Ramos, would be paid for by the company. Ramos dates this event on or about February 10, 2006 - before Ramos claims to have disclosed her second pregnancy to Haber and her co-workers. Piller, however, places this event on February 20, 2006 - after the date of the alleged disclosures. At no time during her employment did Haber advise Ramos that her job assignments or career at Piller would be negatively affected without her obtaining an accounting degree.

According to Ramos, sometime after disclosing her pregnancy to Haber, his conduct toward her changed dramatically. Ramos claims she stopped being invited to and notified of projects and sales meetings in which she had previously been included. She also claims that Haber stopped speaking to her, and did not relocate her office as she claims was promised to her by Haber's predecessor. Ramos alleges that after calling Haber to inform him that she had been hospitalized for dehydration related to her pregnancy, Haber hung up the phone on her.

Haber began attempts to contact Angelica Hoffman ("Hoffman") the week of February 20, 2006 at the earliest. At the time of these communications, Hoffman held a bachelor's degree in accounting, had previously worked for Piller in the Finance Department for six years, and had over ten years of accounting experience. On March 24, 2006, Piller made a formal offer of employment to Hoffman to become a Financial Accountant in Piller's Finance Department. Hoffman accepted Piller's offer of employment shortly after March 24, 2006. Hoffman was not pregnant when Piller hired her.*fn2 Piller terminated Ramos' employment on April 7, 2006.

THE INSTANT ACTION

In June 2006, Ramos filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging wrongful termination of ...


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