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Domenichetti v. Premier Education Group, LP

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 5, 2015

VICTORIA DOMENICHETTI, Plaintiff,
v.
PREMIER EDUCATION GROUP, LP d/b/a/ THE SALTER SCHOOL, LLC, and DAVID PALMER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

INDIRA TALWANI, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Victoria Domenichetti brings this action against her former employer, Premier Education Group ("Premier"), and its former Fall River Campus President, David Palmer. Premier reduced Domenichetti's full-time employment to part-time shortly before she began her pregnancy leave, and Domenichetti asserts claims of interference and retaliation under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA" or the "Act"), pregnancy discrimination, and sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Presently before the court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to All Claims [#72]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is ALLOWED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine factual dispute exists if the issue can be resolved in favor of either party. Calero-Cerezo v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 355 F.3d 6, 19 (1st Cir. 2004). Facts are material if they have the potential to affect the outcome of the case. Id.

The nonmoving party must identify facts, either uncontested or disputed, that demonstrate the existence of a trialworthy issue, id., and may not rest on the pleadings, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. Griggs-Ryan v. Smith, 904 F.2d 112, 115 (1st Cir. 1990). The nonmoving party may not rely "merely upon conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.'" Pina v. Children's Place, 740 F.3d 785, 795 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Dennis v. Osram Sylvania, Inc., 549 F.3d 851, 855-56 (1st Cir. 2008)).

III. Factual Background

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Domenichetti and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, the factual background is as follows:

Defendant Premier owns and operates the Salter School, a career-training school with various campuses, including in Fall River, Massachusetts. In January 2011, Plaintiff Domenichetti was hired as the Externship Coordinator at the Fall River campus, where she was responsible for the placement of students in externship opportunities. She had been working for about a year, when she became pregnant.

Several months later, with the school facing declining enrollment, William Anjos, then Premier's Senior Vice President of Operations and Chief Financial Officer, directed Paul Ferrise, a Regional Vice President, to develop a plan to reduce staff expenses for the campuses in his region. On May 16, 2012, at a time when Anjos and Ferrise claim to have no knowledge of Domenichetti's pregnancy, Ferrise recommended various reductions in force, including eliminating or reducing to half-time the Externship Coordinator position in Fall River.

In the meantime, various staffing changes took place on the Fall River campus. First, the Director of Career Services vacated her position. Domenichetti spoke with David Caldwell, then the Fall River Campus President, about the Director position. Domenichetti expressed some interest in the position but informed Caldwell that she was uninterested in taking the position because it would be fairer to the students for her to consider the position after she returned from maternity leave.

Second, in February 2012, Erin Groves was hired as a Career Services Coordinator. Groves had applied for the Director of Career Services position. She had no prior career services experience, but was informed by Caldwell that if her performance met expectations during her introductory period as a Career Services Coordinator, she would be considered for promotion to the Director position. Domenichetti assisted in training Groves.

Third, Caldwell resigned his position and was replaced in late April or early May of 2012 by David Palmer. Palmer could see that Domenichetti was pregnant when he began his employment.

Fourth, on May 30, 2012, Palmer recommended to Anjos that Groves be promoted to Director of Career Services.

Also in May 2012, Domenichetti requested FMLA forms from Premier's Human Resources director, Jennifer Brown. On June 1, 2012, Brown forwarded the forms to Domenichetti.

On June 5, 2012, Ferrise left on vacation. While Ferrise was away and on or before June 11, Anjos approved Groves' promotion to Director of Career Services. When Domenichetti learned that Groves had been promoted, she confronted Palmer and told him that she was angry about his decision because she felt that she was more qualified for the promotion than Groves.

At some point prior to June 13, 2012, Palmer sought Anjos' approval for Domenichetti's termination for alleged performance issues. In response, Anjos suggested eliminating her position and hiring a part-time replacement.

On June 13, 2012, Domenichetti submitted her maternity leave papers to Brown. Later that day, Brown sent Anjos an e-mail regarding a conversation she had with Palmer. Brown stated that Palmer had told her that he had spoken with Anjos regarding Domenichetti's performance and that Anjos had suggested eliminating her position and hiring a part-time replacement. Brown informed Anjos that Domenichetti's termination was scheduled to occur in two days on June 15. Brown further informed Anjos that Domenichetti had just submitted her leave papers and that she was scheduled to give birth on August 9. Brown asked Anjos whether they should proceed with the plan relayed by Palmer. Anjos responded a few minutes later, and copied David Palmer: "Yes, but given the circumstance we should offer her the part-time position. It protects us."

On June 15, Palmer informed Domenichetti that she was being transitioned to a part-time position.

At some point between the beginning of June and June 19, Domenichetti met with Michael Tinberg, Premier's Regional Director of Career Services. Domenichetti complained to Tinberg about several incidents involving Palmer.[1] Domenichetti complained to Tinberg that Palmer had stared at Groves' breasts throughout a meeting and that Palmer had used the word "girls" to refer to women at the Fall River campus. Domenichetti identifies a number of other incidents, about which she may or may not have also complained to Tinberg, [2] including: (1) Palmer took no action against a male employee who referred to Domenichetti as a "bitch" in front of Palmer; (2) Palmer took no action against the same employee who was also having sexual relationships with several of his subordinates; (3) Palmer used his work computer to shop on the Victoria's Secret website, which was visible to employees passing by in the hall; and (4) at a Premier ice cream social, Palmer told a lewd joke in which he referred to his penis. Regardless of when the conversation between Domenichetti and Tinberg occurred and what was said, Tinberg did not report the conversation to Ferrise until June 20 or 21 after Ferrise returned from a vacation.

At the end of June 2012, Domenichetti lost her health benefits through Premier as a result of her part-time status. On July 18, 2012, Domenichetti filed this action. In early August 2012, Domenichetti began her maternity leave. On November 5, 2012, ...


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