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Pregnancy Bias May Have Led to Firing From Target

(CN) - A mother may be able to prove that her supervisor at Target told her that pregnancy hormones were impairing her judgment and that she then lost her job.

Target hired and trained Christina Spigarelli as an executive team leader for asset protection (ETL-AP) in August 2005, and she became an executive team leader for guest experience in October 2006.

After Spigarelli tried to apprehend a shoplifter in February 2007, Target issued her a final warning for negligent conduct and placed her on probation until February 2008. Spigarelli returned to her original, asset-protection position in August 2007 and informed the company that she was pregnant four months later.

In January 2008, a Target supervisor allegedly told Spigarelli that her "decision-making was being affected because of [her] pregnancy hormones," and that she "was being too emotional and getting caught up into things" and "wasn't thinking right."

Target fired Spigarelli later that month.

Spigarelli then sued Target for violating her rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

Target moved for summary judgment, but U.S. District Judge Darnell Jones II denied the motion on Oct. 25.

The company failed to show that Spigarelli was unqualified for her position and that her pregnancy had nothing to do with her termination.

"Defendant may not justify summary judgment in its favor by saying plaintiff wasn't qualified as an ETL-AP because she violated ETL-AP policy, when it also says that she was terminated for said violations and plaintiff disputes those same alleged violations," Jones wrote.

The decision notes that Target allegedly accused Spigarelli of violating company policy on three different occasions within two weeks of learning she was pregnant. Spigarelli says she had not faced such accusations in the previous 10 months.

"She further contends that she was terminated a week after her supervisor expressed her belief that plaintiff's pregnancy rendered plaintiff unable to exercise appropriate judgment in her role as an ETL-AP," the decision states. "Such temporal proximity between defendant's knowledge of plaintiff's pregnancy and subsequent adverse employment actions would be sufficient to draw an inference of causality as to defeat summary judgment. Whether plaintiff's supervisor indeed expressed such a belief - defendant contends the supervisor made no such statements - or whether plaintiff in fact violated company policy three times in December remain questions of fact appropriately put before the jury. Defendant's articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating plaintiff raise additional questions of fact for the jury, such as which alleged policy violations, on which dates, led to plaintiff's termination."

In a separate order, Jones granted Spigarelli's motion to file supplemental authority.

A telephone status conference call has been set for Tuesday, Nov. 6.

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