A federal judge has issued a mixed ruling on a lawsuit filed by a former ESPN associate producer who claimed the sports network discriminated against her because she is a woman and retaliated against her for taking advantage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
In his ruling handed down Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Shea of Connecticut dismissed most of the claims leveled by Rachel Pineda in a February lawsuit. The judge dismissed her FMLA claim and her Title VII claim related to sex discrimination, the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Shea said Pineda’s claim for discrimination based on race, color and national origin may proceed.
Pineda, a Terryville resident, filed several claims against ESPN and management saying she wasn’t treated properly and, in many cases, not talked to with respect. Pineda was seeking $2.5 million in damages, $100,000 in lost wages and $200,000 for a college scholarship for her young son for “his pain and suffering and to compensate his father for my loss of income.”
Shea let stand the complaint related to discrimination based on race, noting Pineda, who is Hispanic, was allegedly told by a manager she should “go to Deportes,” which is the network’s Spanish-speaking network. That comment, the judge wrote, “could be read to suggest hostility to Hispanic employees by suggesting they work for Spanish-speaking networks, and was directly connected to Pineda’s performance during her probationary period.”
In her lawsuit, Pineda said she was fired in April 2016 “over the phone after being interrogated as to when I was coming in, when I explained that the phone meeting had been planned for over a month and I had already made child care and transportation arrangements for the day.” In her suit, Pineda said she was promised more substantial assignments by the network, but said, “I believe that I was lied to about what I was being asked to do at ESPN, and I believe I was retaliated against and wrongly terminated” based on ethnicity and gender, among other things.
Pineda claims management ridiculed her regarding her status as a single mother. In one case, she said, she was told by a human resources representative that breast-feeding mothers “needed to be watched, and that we should only be allowed to sign up for pre-scheduled 20-minute intervals in a private, locked, one-person booth. Otherwise we take up too much time and it can’t be known what we are actually doing. [One defendant] also disapproved of my child being brought to the mother’s room to be fed, [saying] that it should only be used for pumping, not feeding.”
Shea, though, said Pineda never states a specific Title VII claim for employment discrimination on the basis of sex. He said Pineda cannot show the breast-feeding comments had anything to do with her termination. Pineda did allege she had “rape-related” post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from an assault on her when she was in college.
Shea wrote in his decision: “Although Pineda obliquely references PTSD symptoms and that certain actions by ESPN triggered her PTSD, she does not specify what symptoms she experienced and how those symptoms impacted her ability to perform her job as an associate producer.”
Shea also found Pineda was not able to prove retaliation related to her FMLA claim. The judge noted that plaintiff’s performance review evaluation took place more than four months after her leave, and that she was fired nine months later.
Pineda, who acted as her own attorney, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Late Friday, Josh Krulewitz, ESPN’s vice president of communications, told the Connecticut Law Tribune that the company would be declining comment.