A former Onia, LLC employee alleges in a proposed class and collective action that she was discriminated against for taking maternity leave and deprived of proper overtime wages.
The plaintiff, who the 39-page lawsuit alleges was fired after an “incredibly successful tenure” as an Onia sales executive, says “everything changed” after she disclosed her pregnancy and requested three months of maternity leave in February 2019.
Following the plaintiff’s maternity leave request, the luxury apparel and lifestyle brand and its co-owner and co-founder, an individual defendant in the case, called into question the woman’s job security, pressured her to return early from leave, forced her to sign a revised offer letter deeming her a “probationary employee,” stripped the woman of hard-earned accounts, and refused to pay over $33,800 in commissions before unlawfully terminating the plaintiff on the basis of her pregnancy and protected leave, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit further claims the plaintiff and other Onia employees were misclassified as exempt from receiving overtime pay and denied accurate wage statements, and alleges violations of state and local civil and human rights laws and the New York Labor Law.
The plaintiff, who worked for Onia between August 2017 and January 2020, says she “quickly made herself indispensable” to the defendants through her job performance and consistently received positive feedback for her work. At the start of her employment, the woman requested and received a religious accommodation to leave work early on Fridays so she could make it home before the start of the Sabbath, the suit relays.
According to the case, the plaintiff disclosed her pregnancy to her supervisor, the individual defendant, in February 2019. Though the co-owner at first offered congratulations, “his attitude subsequently changed” after the plaintiff requested three months of maternity leave, the lawsuit alleges. The plaintiff’s supervisor “[a]lmost immediately” questioned her job security, the case says, and thereafter cast doubt on whether the woman would still hold her position upon her return.
Although the defendants agreed to allow the plaintiff to occasionally work from home during her pregnancy and attend doctor’s appointments, the woman was “actively discouraged” from doing so and unfairly required to send calendar reminders to the entire sales team each time she went to the doctor, the lawsuit says. The case posits that this notification requirement was meant to discourage the plaintiff from receiving pregnancy-related treatment given no other employees were required to notify coworkers about doctor’s appointments.
“Upon information and belief, Defendants created this policy to embarrass Plaintiff and disincentivize her from taking time away from the office to receive pregnancy-related medical treatment,” the complaint reads.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants continued to pressure the plaintiff to change the terms of her maternity leave after it began, including by attempting to shorten her leave and requiring that she “stay on top of her accounts” and participate in weekly meetings for which she was not paid.
Per the case, the defendants refused to grant the plaintiff’s request to work from home two days per week upon her return until she arranged for childcare despite having “no legitimate business reason” to deny her request. The suit says an executive “confirmed the illegitimate, discriminatory, and retaliatory nature of this decision” by agreeing to grant the plaintiff’s accommodation on the condition that the woman signed a revised offer letter modifying the terms and conditions of her employment.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff, upon her return, signed a revised offer letter stating she would be brought back on a “trial basis,” with her job performance to be closely monitored with monthly “observation and evaluation” based only on the fact that she had requested maternity leave.
“Simply put, Defendants suddenly began treating Plaintiff as an unfamiliar, entry-level employee due to her pregnancy and status as a new mother,” the complaint scathes, alleging the defendants also stripped the plaintiff of her commission and most of her accounts.
“Rather than continuing to manage approximately $2 million to $3 million in business, as Plaintiff did prior to taking leave and during the first month after her return, Plaintiff was suddenly forced to establish new accounts from scratch, making it nearly impossible for Plaintiff to earn a bonus under her new incentive compensation structure,” the case claims.
In late December 2019, the plaintiff was informed via email that she could no longer work from home two days per week. Moreover, the defendants also demanded that she stay in the office until 6:00 p.m. each day, thereby ending the religious accommodation that allowed the plaintiff to arrive home before the beginning of the Sabbath each week.
The plaintiff objected to the changes and complained that the defendants had “reduced her pay, took away her accounts, and put her in a position to earn far less than her peers following her return from maternity leave.” According to the suit, the woman was terminated on January 8, 2020 “based on her pregnancy, maternity leave, and objection to the Company’s rescission of her religious accommodation,” and is still owed over $33,800 in unpaid commissions.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that the plaintiff and other Onia workers frequently put in more than 40 hours per week but were misclassified as exempt from receiving overtime pay. Per the case, the workers were entitled to time-and-a-half overtime given the strict level of control the defendants maintained over their job duties. Moreover, the defendants failed to provide employees with accurate wage statements that reflected their actual hours worked, the suit claims.
According to the suit, the plaintiff was issued a Notice of Right to Sue by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on October 16, 2020.
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