HFA Files Lawsuit against Rutgers University for Illegally Firing Pregnant Employee Eight Days Before Her Due Date

Feb 07, 2019

Natalie Jesionka is the Associate Director of the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers University Newark.  A leader and champion of Rutgers since 2004, when she first enrolled as a student at the university, she has gone on to a decorated and successful career in academia, focusing her talents on researching and combatting the evils of human trafficking.  She has served as a lecturer in the Sociology and Women’s Studies Departments at Rutgers and taught courses on human rights, human trafficking and international development.  In recent years, she has been a Fulbright scholar, has served on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA and was awarded the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans to further her research in counter-trafficking efforts around the world.

Praised by her peers and other faculty, including outstanding performance reviews from her former supervisor, Ms. Jesionka learned of another significant and happy development in her life in the middle of 2018: she was pregnant with her first child.  In the fall of 2018, Ms. Jesionka informed her new supervisor as well as Rutgers’ Human Resources Department that she was pregnant and due to have her baby on February 14, 2019.

On February 4, 2019, Ms. Jesionka filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey alleging that Rutgers had unlawfully discriminated against her because she was pregnant and soon to take maternity leave, and had retaliated against her for filing an internal complaint.

The lawsuit alleges as follows:

In the weeks following Ms. Jesionka’s disclosure of her pregnancy, her new supervisor repeatedly raised the pregnancy and upcoming maternity leave in discussions with Ms. Jesionka, baselessly questioning Ms. Jesionka’s ability to perform her job and her dedication to the job, and culminating in a December 18, 2018 meeting where the supervisor informed Ms. Jesionka that she would be giving Ms. Jesionka a poor performance review in April, while Ms. Jesionka was scheduled to be on maternity leave.

The supervisor’s repeated enquiries about Ms. Jesionka’s pregnancy and the unusual discussion of an unwarranted, poor performance review to take place five months in the future, prompted Ms. Jesionka to raise concerns of pregnancy discrimination in a complaint with Rutgers’ Office of Employment Equity (OEE) on December 20, 2018.

On January 8, 2019, after receiving no substantive response from OEE, Ms. Jesionka followed up with OEE concerning the status of her complaint and expressed concern that the complaint could lead to retaliation by her supervisor.  Later that same day, Ms. Jesionka’s fears were realized, when her supervisor came, unscheduled, to Ms. Jesionka’s office and provided her a termination letter dated that same day.  The letter from her supervisor specifically informed Ms. Jesionka that her position was terminated, effective February 6, 2019—less than a week after the commencement of her scheduled maternity leave and only eight days before her due date.

Although Ms. Jesionka was told that her employment was being terminated because her position was being eliminated, Defendant communicated to staff approximately one week later that advertisements for a replacement for Ms. Jesionka would be issued soon.

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