Court: Woman's ex-employer can sue her because she told customers she was fired for getting pregnant

By Sandra Lane | Jul 27, 2018

Editor's note: This article has been revised from an earlier edition to clarify one of the litigants in the related actions can continue with a lawsuit against her former employer, but not her supervisor.

CHICAGO – A federal judge has determined a woman's former supervisor can sue her for defamation, after the former employee allegedly told customers and others her supervisor had fired her for gettting pregnant.

In June, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman ruled against Paulina Kozlowski, who had herself sued her fromer employer, Greenridge Farm Inc., and former supervisor Michael Shannon, accusing the company and her boss of discrimination. 

Feinerman rejected the claim against Shannon, saying he did not fit the law's defintion of "employer." However, the judge said he would allow Shannon and Greenridge to continue with a counterclaim they brought against Kozlowski for defamation, alleging she had damaged their reputations with clients by allegedly accusing them of a crime.

U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman

“Because pregnancy discrimination violates federal law, public policy, and commonly accepted morality, Kozlowski’s alleged statements compromised Greenridge’s reputation for adhering to the community’s moral standards," Feinerman said.

Kozlowski alleged in her lawsuit that Greenridge violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that both defendants violated the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) when they allegedly demoted and then terminated her after learning she was pregnant.

According to the decision, Kozlowski worked in sales for Greenridge, earning approximately $78,000 annually. Shortly after she told Shannon she was pregnant, Kozlowski alleged she was told she was being moved to another position under which her salary would be $40,000. She was later fired.

Judge Feinerman granted Shannon's motion for dismissal of the claims against him and rejected Kozlowski's request for dismissal of Greenridge's claims filed in response to her suit.

“Kozlowski’s IHRA pregnancy discrimination claim against Shannon can proceed only if he qualifies as an employer," the ruling said. "Because Kozlowski alleges that Shannon was her ‘boss’ and himself a Greenridge employee, he does not qualify as her employer.”

Greenridge and Shannon have been represented in the action by attorneys Margherita M. Albarello and Peter M. Follenweider, of the firm of DiMonte & Lizak, of Park Ridge.

Kozlowski is represented in the case by attorneys Mark D. Hansen, of the firm of Graefe & Hansen Ltd., and Stephanie L. Matthews, of the firm of Cole Sadkin LLC, both of Chicago. 

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Dimonte & Lizak Graefe and Hansen, Ltd. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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