- Deloitte Looks To KO Class Claims In Maternity Leave Suit, NOVEMBER 03, 2020
In a filing backing a motion to strike Saxon Knight's class allegations, the company said that her proposed class of female U.S. Deloitte employees was too broad and could lead to a "fishing expedition" during discovery.
"Plaintiff's case is ultimately about her and her alone. Regardless of how she attempts to dress up her allegations — whether to create settlement leverage or otherwise — she cannot transmogrify her uniquely individual allegations into class claims and thereby needlessly expose Defendant to the expense of classwide discovery," Deloitte said in its filing.
The firm maintained it did nothing unlawful in shifting Knight from her former position after she returned from what it said was almost 27 weeks of paid leave in 2019 and then firing her during COVID-19-related layoffs in July 2020. The company's family leave policy provides up to 24 weeks of paid family leave, though jobs are protected only for 12 weeks in accordance with federal law, it said.
Further, the company said Friday that Knight's proposed class claims — which she alleged in her complaint were on behalf of "all women working for Deloitte in the United States who have taken a parental leave exceeding 12 weeks" — definitely could not stand.
Knight sued in September for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act and New York human rights laws including retaliation, gender discrimination and pregnancy discrimination. Estimating that the proposed class includes thousands of women, she asked for an injunction, damages and a jury trial, among other demands.
But Knight made no specific allegations concerning what happened to other Deloitte women if they took as long of a maternity leave as she had, the company said, much less about whether they were harmed by its policy as she claimed to have been. She did not allege that her situation was a "systemic problem" or "widespread" either, it added.
The proposed class also could not proceed under the Family and Medical Leave Act as Knight suggested, Deloitte contended, because that law only provides job-protected leave for 12 weeks. A company is not violating federal law by giving employees the option for additional leave but not holding their positions for them if they take it, the company said.
Whether someone retains their position upon returning from an extended leave depends on their individual managers' decisions, so the claims are "discretionary," Deloitte argued.
As someone who no longer works for Deloitte, the company added, Knight cannot represent a class that includes current employees.
In a phone interview Monday, an attorney for Knight, Michael Willemin of Wigdor LLP, cited case law "that holds that a company can't essentially trick someone by giving them extra time" to avoid its obligations under the FMLA.
He later pointed to New York and New Jersey case law in 2013's Stoler v. Inst. for Integrative Nutrition and 2006's Santosuosso v. NovaCare Rehab that said employees did not give up their FMLA rights just because their employer approved a leave longer than 12 weeks.
"Generally speaking, the complaint clearly alleges that Deloitte has a policy of not guaranteeing employment or reinstatement to people who take more than 12 weeks of leave," Willemin told Law360 Monday.
Also on Friday, the company filed its answer to Knight's September 1 complaint, saying she "failed to capitalize" on professional opportunities upon her return from maternity leave and was fired as part of a general "workforce reduction" brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Counsel for Deloitte did not immediately return requests for comment Monday.
Knight is represented by Sarah J. Arena and Michael Willemin of Wigdor LLP.
Deloitte is represented by Jill L. Rosenberg and Lisa Lupion of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.
The case is Knight et al. v. Deloitte & Touche LLP, case number 1:20-cv-07114, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
- Editing by Steven Edelstone.