Do I have a wrongful demotion case?

I’ve worked at my current company for almost 5 years as an at will employee. I was working in a position during year 4 and than was promotion to another position where I’ve been working for about a year. During my last review, my employer stated that we would be re-evaluating that entire department by the end of this month to see if the department was profitable. A few months pass and I share the news that Im 7 weeks pregnant with my boss because I was running to the bathroom a lot with morning sickness. Then, 1.5 weeks later, my boss told me again that we would be reevaluating the department at the end of this month and if the department does not meet its goal than I will be demoted to my previous position and take a paycut. He also stated that he believes that I was originally being paid too much in my old position compared to what he can currently hire new employees at, so I would need to take another paycut from the salary that I was making in my old position. I’ve never received a negative review in this old position and my pay increases were always justified with taking on more work and consistant positive performance. The company is a 6 year old start up and there is no HR Department. Since my boss is the cofounder, he is the closest thing to an HR Department. After speaking with my sister in law who is a senior recruiter for a big bank, she said it’s pretty apparent that they do not want to fire me so I can collect unemployment. I’m about to start showing soon and I left with having to either hide my pregnancy for a few months which I’m hired can be looked at as dishonest or disclose and be faced with unintentional pregnancy discrimination. I feel like my company is forcing my hand with the 10k paycut due to my pregnancy. This doesn’t legally seem right, but Im not a lawyer so I don’t know if this is something that I can pursue.

Asked on August 16, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

This is case where you should consult with an employment law attorney. There are some basic facts both in your favor and against you:
Pro--shortly after telling your employer your were pregnant, he stated that you may be demoted and have your pay cut; that suggests illegal disabiity-based (pregnancy is treated like a disability for this purpose) discrimination, since negative action is threatened against you shortly after informing the company of your pregnancy.
Con--They initially announced the re-evaluation before you told them you were pregnant, which on the other hand suggests that any actions taken in regards to a re-evaluation are independent of your pregnancy and so not discriminatory.
There are other facts which may make a difference in determining if you have a valid claim or not:
1) Are there other people in your department? If there are, are any of them also being threatened with demotion and/or a pay cut--or only you?
2) The new employees who he is comparing you to for salary--what are their qualifications and credentials as compared to yours?
3) Have there been other pregnant women at work? If so, have any of them faced negative employment actions?
4) How many of the employees are women?
You should, as stated, consult with an employment law attorney who can evaluate all of the facts relating to your employment and the situation and advise you as to your options.


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