Worker was reprimanded for attending cancer screenings in violation of FMLA, lawsuit alleges

Dive Brief:

  • A former equities analyst for Nomura Securities sued the financial services firm for allegedly subjecting her to discriminatory treatment because she is female and firing her because she complained about the alleged discrimination.
  • The analyst worked in the firm’s New York City headquarters, according to the Jan. 22 complaint in Feng v. Nomura Securities International, Inc. She claimed the firm put her at a professional disadvantage in several ways: The only woman on her team, her boss directly told her she was “underpaid,” the lawsuit alleged. Also, after she warned managers and HR that the dismissive attitude of a male IT leader, on whom she relied for data quality support, could negatively impact a project, managers allegedly responded by requiring her — but not her male co-workers — to work in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. At the time, she was actively undergoing screenings for skin and breast cancer and had urgent appointments for biopsies during those days, according to the complaint. She was allegedly told to reschedule the appointments for other times, even though male counterparts were allowed to work from home to run errands or attend medical appointments, the complaint said.
  • Due to her doctor’s limited availability, the analyst kept the appointments and was subsequently given a negative performance review, according to the lawsuit. She complained to HR but was told an investigation revealed no wrongdoing, the lawsuit alleged. Although no men on her team were let go, the analyst was then terminated in a purported staff reduction shortly after she stated in an internal survey that her unit “should stop discriminating against women,” according to the complaint.

Dive Insight:

Following her termination, the analyst sued Nomura for allegedly violating federal, state and local laws, including retaliation for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act; gender-based pay discrimination under the Equal Pay Act; and gender discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In an email to HR Dive, Nomura stated that: “The lawsuit has no merit. The claimant was not subjected to unlawful discrimination, and the company intends to defend vigorously against allegations to the contrary.”

For employers in the financial sector, allegations of gender discrimination aren’t new. Last year, Goldman Sachs agreed to settle a class-action suit first filed in 2010, alleging that the investment banking firm discriminated against women in compensation, promotions, business opportunities and performance evaluations. As part of the settlement, the firm agreed to pay $215 million to 2,800 female associates and vice presidents to resolve the claims.

The Nomura suit highlights challenges faced by HR pros across the board, such as ensuring managers know how to identify and respond to FMLA issues. Untrained managers can act in ways that lead to violations and large payouts, experts have said.

As was alleged here, sensitive situations may arise when employees ask for leave to undergo a cancer screening. Under the FMLA, they may have the right to take the time off. This is because the law entitles an eligible employee to take unpaid leave to treat a “serious health condition,” and treatment includes “examinations to determine if a serious health condition exists and evaluations of the condition,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which enforces the FMLA.

The case also alerts HR pros to issues directly affecting them, namely reminding them to follow best practices when responding to discrimination complaints. These practices may include conducting a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and asking the manager involved to explain their decisions and provide reasons for treating an employee differently than others who engaged in similar behavior, according to guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In her lawsuit, the analyst claimed she contacted HR a number of times about being treated in a discriminatory manner — including telling an HR rep about the in-office requirements and her scheduled biopsies — but that either nothing was done or the response was inadequate. The analyst also alleged that an HR employee who attended her performance review agreed she should have previously been told about a purported performance problem that was first raised in the review.