rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent and credibility are crucial issues." Id. at 1038.
To succeed on a claim of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a plaintiff may either provide direct evidence of discrimination or, more commonly, show discrimination through the indirect, burden-shifting method of proof established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973). Under the McDonnell Douglas framework a plaintiff must first state a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. at 802. For a gender discrimination claim the plaintiff must show: (1) she was a member of the protected class, (2) she was doing her job well enough to meet her employer's legitimate expectations, (3) she was discharged or demoted, and (4) the employer sought a replacement for her. See Anderson v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 13 F.3d 1120, 1122 (7th Cir. 1994); McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802.
Once the plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to rebut the presumption of discrimination by articulating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If the employer makes this showing, the plaintiff, as the party with the ultimate burden of persuasion, must then demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer's stated reasons were a mere pretext for discrimination. Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207, 101 S. Ct. 1089 (1981). Of course, on a motion for summary judgment the plaintiff carries a lesser burden. "[She] must only 'produce evidence from which a rational factfinder could infer that the company lied' about its proffered reasons." Anderson, 13 F.3d at 1124 (quoting Shager v. Upjohn Co., 913 F.2d 398, 401 (7th Cir. 1990). As the Shager court explained, "if the only reason an employer offers for firing an employee is a lie, the inference that the real reason was a forbidden one, such as [gender] may naturally be drawn." Shager, 913 F.2d at 401.
Clarence House first argues that DeNardo failed to produce sufficient evidence to constitute a prima facie case of discrimination. The defendant does not dispute that DeNardo has satisfied the second and third elements of the prima facie case, that she was performing her job satisfactorily and was nonetheless terminated. However, the defendant claims that she has failed to establish the first and fourth elements. Clarence House argues that because neither Roberts nor anyone else involved in the termination decision was aware of DeNardo's pregnancy at the time they made the decision to fire her, DeNardo has failed to establish that she was a member of the protected class. Clarence House further claims that it did not hire anyone to replace DeNardo. Finally, the defendant asserts that even if DeNardo had set forth a valid prima facie case, Clarence House has produced undisputed evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for DeNardo's discharge.
The court first addresses the issue of whether or not DeNardo was a member of the protected class. This question is trickier than it appears. Unlike other protected classes such as race, gender or national origin, pregnancy, especially in its early stages, is not always readily discernible. It is therefore possible for an individual to qualify as a member of the protected class, as a pregnant woman, even though her employer has no actual knowledge that she is pregnant. In these cases, it hardly seems fair or even rational to infer discrimination based on the burden shifting formula laid out in McDonnell Douglas. The rationale behind the McDonnell Douglas presumption is that when an employer takes action against a member of a protected class without a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for doing so, it is reasonable to presume that such action was motivated by impermissible factors. See Burdine, 450 U.S. at 255. However, if the employer does not know that an individual is a member of a protected class, such a presumption ceases to be rational.
In an analogous context, the court in Doe v. First Nat'l. Bank, 668 F. Supp 1110 (N.D. Ill. 1987) concluded that the unique nature of a discrimination claim based on having an abortion necessitated a revision of the prima facie case set forth in McDonnell Douglas. In First Nat'l, the court added two additional requirements to the traditional elements of the prima facie case: (1) that the employer knew the plaintiff had an abortion, and (2) that the employer possessed animus towards abortion. Doe, 668 F. Supp. at 1113. While the latter element is not relevant to the case at hand, the requirement that an employer knew of the plaintiff's status as a member of the protected class is appropriate in this instance as well.
The court therefore finds that in order to show gender discrimination based on pregnancy, a plaintiff must initially show the employer knew she was pregnant and consequently, a member of the protected class.
Defendant argues that Roberts made the decision to fire DeNardo in November, and as he did not know she was pregnant at that time, his decision could not have been motivated by discrimination. If the decision to fire DeNardo was in fact made in November, defendant would be right. The key issue therefore becomes whether DeNardo has produced sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether or not Clarence House decided to terminate her in November, before they learned she was pregnant. The court believes that she has.
Both parties agree that Suarez v. Illinois Valley Community College, 688 F. Supp. 376 (N.D. Ill. 1988) is instructive. In Suarez, the court also addressed the issue of whether or not the defendants had decided to discharge the plaintiff before they knew she was pregnant. In that case, one of the defendants testified that they had agreed to fire the plaintiff at a meeting in December, the month before she was actually discharged. The court noted however, that the testimony of these individuals was "vague and sometimes conflicting" with respect to when, where, and if, this meeting actually took place. Id. at 381. Relying in part on the conflicts in defendants' testimony, the court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment.
In this case, the testimony of the defendant that Roberts decided to eliminate the receptionist position in November, is not similarly in conflict. Both Roberts and Raup testified to this in their affidavits and depositions. However, DeNardo has come forward with sufficient evidence of other conflicts in Clarence House employees' accounts of the key events to raise credibility issues similar to those noted by the court in Suarez. By everyone's account, Harold Spector, the comptroller, was the only Clarence House employee DeNardo told she was pregnant. As noted previously, DeNardo told Spector about her pregnancy when she called for insurance forms on December 30, 1991. However, DeNardo alleges that after Wike spoke to Raup on the 31st, Wike not only told DeNardo that she was fired, but also wished her congratulations on being pregnant. Construing the record in the light most favorable to DeNardo, these facts could lead a rational factfinder to conclude that Spector had told Raup and Roberts that DeNardo was pregnant some time on December 30, 1991 - one day before she was fired.
While Wike, Raup, and Roberts all deny DeNardo's claim about when they learned of her pregnancy, their stories conflict. Wike claims she learned DeNardo was pregnant from Raup a couple weeks after DeNardo was discharged. (Wike's Aff. P10). Raup, on the other hand, states that Wike told him DeNardo was pregnant a month later. (Raup's Dep. p. 54). Roberts claims he did not know DeNardo was pregnant until January 1992. (Robert's Aff. P10). As an entity, Clarence House initially asserted, in its statement to the EEOC, that DeNardo told Wike she was pregnant the day Wike fired her. (Respondent's Position Statement p. 2, Plaintiff's Ex. E). In Clarence House's memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment, defendant later suggests that Clarence House personnel did not learn DeNardo was pregnant until they received notice of her claim from the EEOC. Although these conflicting stories do not directly concern whether the decision to fire DeNardo was made in November, when coupled with the absence of any written evidence documenting Clarence House's purported November 1991 termination decision, they raise a substantial credibility issue with respect to defendant's account of the relevant events. This type of credibility issue is properly resolved by the factfinder.
To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, plaintiff must also show that Clarence House sought a replacement for her. Again, genuine issues of material fact preclude the court from deciding this issue on a motion for summary judgment. Clarence House claims that Peregoy, who was hired two months after DeNardo was fired, was not hired to replace DeNardo but rather, as an assistant in the showroom. In Raup's deposition he states that Peregoy was hired with the understanding that his principal responsibility was going to be doing stock work. Moreover, Roberts asserts in his affidavit that he authorized the hiring of Peregoy "to perform stock work, such as hanging displays and organizing and maintaining samples. . . ." (Robert's Aff. P 12). On the other hand, Peregoy is quite clear in his testimony that he was hired to act as a receptionist. First, Peregoy states that he approached Raup and Wike concerning a possible position, "because it looked like they needed somebody to answer the phones." (Peregoy Dep. p.7). Furthermore, when asked to describe his job responsibilities, Peregoy stated: "primarily I answered the phone, made coffee, took orders, sold fabric, greeted customers, operated the postage machine, just basic data entry, phone correspondence." (Id. p. 24). Resolving the dispute between the parties concerning whether Peregoy was hired to replace DeNardo must be left to the factfinder, as it will require a weighing of the credibility of the witnesses.
Finally, the court turns to the legitimacy of Clarence House's proffered reason for DeNardo's discharge. To support its position that DeNardo's discharge was motivated by a legitimate business concern, Clarence House states that the decision to eliminate the receptionist position was taken because sales in Chicago had declined. They were reportedly no longer able to afford to pay for a receptionist. However, shortly after firing DeNardo, Clarence House hired Peregoy, at a salary greater than DeNardo's. Though the parties disagree about the nature of Peregoy's duties, a rational factfinder could find that Peregoy was hired to perform DeNardo's old job duties. If true, Clarence House's decision to hire Peregoy would be clearly inconsistent with Clarence House's assertion that DeNardo was discharged because they could not afford to pay her salary. The court finds that this evidence raises an issue as to whether defendant's proffered nondiscriminatory reason for terminating DeNardo was valid, or mere pretext. DeNardo has therefore met her burden under the McDonnell Douglas framework of showing that the defendant's stated reason for discharging her may not have been legitimate.
Cap on Damages
42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(A) states:
The sum of the amount of compensatory damages awarded under this section for future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other nonpecuniary losses, and the amount of punitive damages awarded under this section, shall not exceed, for each complaining party-