Humana Inc. is coughing up over $500,000, plus $250,000 in attorney fees, to a former employee who claimed the health care company unlawfully fired her when she became pregnant.
U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson in New Jersey entered judgment Friday in favor of Kate Jenkins, who sued her former employer Senior Bridge Family Companies and its parent company, Humana, in October 2016. Jenkins’ lawsuit, which also named related companies as defendants, claimed her old workplace engaged in sex and pregnancy discrimination when she was fired in 2015.
Humana offered to pay $500,000 in January to resolve Jenkins’ claims, and also agreed to pay “reasonable” attorney fees and costs. Wolfson signed off on that agreement Friday. The parties agreed Humana will pay $250,000 in attorney fees and costs, according to a press release from Jenkins’ attorneys.
Jenkins was represented by Lane Schiff and Stephen Console of Console Mattiacci Law, an employment rights law firm with offices in Philadelphia and Moorestown, New Jersey. In a statement, Console praised Jenkins’ “courage to bring this lawsuit and her conviction to accept nothing short of a public judgment in her favor.”
“The value to a civil rights plaintiff to have a judgment entered for the world to see, after they have been tossed into the street by their former employer, is significant,” he said.
Jenkins, in a comment included in the firm’s press release, said she hoped the judgment would help spur employers to ”begin to embrace and empower” working mothers, in addition to recognizing their obligations under the law.
Jenkins worked for Humana from September 2006 to January 2015, according to court papers. Jenkins, who was promoted within her company and rose to be a regional executive director, said she witnessed her boss and another employee in 2014 complain about the number of people who had requested or taken time off for family and medical leave.
Jenkins became pregnant shortly after. When she notified her boss, the complaint said, the supervisor asked Jenkins who would watch her baby and inquired about maternity leave. The complaint says Humana also “interfered” with Jenkins’ ability to work and “unjustly criticized” her performance.
After Jenkins took a leave of absence, the company fired her within weeks of her return. The lawsuit alleges that her termination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. It also claimed Jenkins was fired in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as the New Jersey Family Leave Act.
Humana initially fought Jenkins’ claims that she was entitled to damages. John MacDonald, a partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete who represented the Louisville, Kentucky-based company in the case, filed a motion for partial summary judgment in March 2018.
MacDonald contended Jenkins failed to show her employers engaged in “especially egregious” conduct under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, writing her firing instead stemmed from “numerous failures in her work performance.” A termination memo from Jenkins’ supervisor, Ruth Farrago, said Jenkins was fired for such behavior as letting companions work on clients, improperly discussing client information and allowing family members to make health care decisions, and more.
MacDonald also argued, among other things, that Farrago and the human relations professional who helped make the call to fire Jenkins were not considered, under the law, “upper management” who took affirmative actions to engage in “especially egregious” conduct.
After the case went to mediation, Jenkins in January accepted an offer of judgment from her former employer.
“Many women in the workforce have two full time jobs: the one performed for their employer, and the one at home, caring for and raising their families,” Jenkins said in her statement. “As these women are working double to wear both hats, employers must do more to prevent and remove the discriminatory obstacles uniquely faced by working mothers.”
Neither MacDonald nor Humana responded to requests for comment.