A U.S. federal appeals court this week reversed a win for Organogenesis in an employment discrimination and retaliation lawsuit from former employees, according to recently released court documents.
The U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the case filed by former employees Angela Gonzales, Linda Boyd and Brandee Colombo against Canton, Mass.-based Organogenesis.
In the case, which had previously been granted a summary judgement in Organogenesis’ favor, the employees levied one claim of retaliation and three claims of gender discrimination.
The appeals court said it believed that the district court incorrectly concluded that Gonzales, who levied the retaliation claim, “did not demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Organogenesis’s proffered reason for her termination was pretextual,” according to court records.
Gonzales said that four months before she was terminated, she lodged a complaint against her supervisor, Oscar Ferrer, with the company’s human resources department.
“Gonzales presented sufficient evidence that Ferrer caused her termination, including evidence that Organogenesis managers made retaliatory comments directed towards her, that her alleged compliance violations were false, and that the investigation into her complaint about Ferrer was insufficient and irregular,” court records read.
The court concluded that Gonzales’ evidence and the short time frame between her report and an investigation launched by Ferrer that resulted in her termination “creates a genuine dispute of triable facts precluding summary judgement.”
The appeals court said that the district court’s conclusion that all three plaintiffs could not make out a prima facie case of gender discrimination under FEHA because they couldn’t show the company had a discriminatory motive was based on an erroneous interpretation of the law.
“Contrary to its conclusion, an employee may use evidence of discrimination against other members of her protected class to prove that her employer’s termination action was motivated by gender-based discrimination, even if she was not present for the discriminatory comments,” appeals court judges wrote.
Ferrer reportedly questioned the women about their plans to have children and directly told Gonzales that he “needed to fire a female salesperson before she became pregnant,” which the court said presents enough direct evidence of a discriminatory animus to survive summary judgement, according to court documents.
The appeals court also said that Gonzales had presented sufficient evidence that Ferrer “not only made discriminatory comments but also caused her termination,” and rejected the district court’s conclusion that the plaintiffs could not show that Ferrer’s “discriminatory animus” more likely motivated their terminations than the nondiscriminatory reasons supplied by Organogenesis.
In its final note, the appeals court said that Boyd and Colombo had presented sufficient evidence “to create a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Organogenesis’s reason for their termination,” which was performed through a Reduction in Force that led to the dismissal of one-third of its workforce, “was pretext for gender discrimination.”
The case was remanded and reversed, and the district court’s award of costs to Organogenesis was vacated, according to court documents.
Last December, private equity firm Avista Healthcare Public Acquisition Corp. approved its merger with Organogenesis.
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