On the heels of an International Women's Day collaboration with up-and-coming female photographers, Coach is coming under fire to allegedly firing an staffer right after she returned from maternity leave in violation of federal law. Monica Jean Baptiste, who filed suit against Coach’s parent company Tapestry in a New Jersey federal court on Saturday, alleges that despite the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), which requires employers to allow their employees 12 weeks of unpaid maternity (or paternity) leave, she was abruptly given the boot just two days after she returned to work from her approved leave.
According to Baptiste’s complaint, she was employed by Coach to “develop and manage” the Coach brand on a global scale, including creating and overseeing "the seasonal buying targets.” As revealed in her 2017 year-end review, Baptiste alleges that “she met and exceeded all her goals and job requirements, and was given a full bonus as a result of this review.” The bonus, itself, included stock options that would not vest for a total of 4 years, meaning that she had to remain with the company for that amount of time in order to have access to the benefits.
Upon her return to work after the birth of her child and the culmination of her maternity leave, Baptiste asserts that within two days she was terminated “without warning.” In giving her job to another individual within the Coach company and failing to restore her “to the same or an equivalent position upon returning from [maternity] leave,” Baptiste says that Coach’s parent company was “wrongfully retaliating” against her for taking the legally-mandated leave.
According to Baptiste, not only has Tapestry run afoul of federal law by taking away her job, the retail giant has robbed her of her bonus, as well, since she will not be around in four years to claim the stock options.
Enacted in 1993, the FMLA guarantee parents time with their new children without having to worry about losing their jobs as a result. The Act, itself, requires that an employer permit an employee to return to his/her position or a similar position with the same benefits at the end of the 12-week leave, subject to some requirements, including that the employer must employ more than 50 people, and the individual employee at issue must have previously worked more than 25 hours per week for 50 weeks.
Still yet, the individual may not be in the highest 10 percent of wage earners at the company and if that is the case, the employer must prove that the individual’s absence would cause them significant financial harm in order to avoid having to abide by the FMLA-mandated leave period.
Save for the first requirement (Tapestry certainly employees more than 50 people), it is unclear based on Baptiste’s complaint if these other requirements were met by Baptiste.
On its face, the suit at hand appears to be little more than a straightforward claim of a corporate entity on the hook for allegedly violating the FMLA, a law that essentially asserts that an employer may not fire an employee because he/she took time off from work in order to have a child (or in other cases, to care for an ailing family member). No shortage of these kinds of lawsuits have been filed against apparel brands since the passage of the FMLA in 1993.
As for what might be different in Baptiste’s case and any of the other recent cases by women with new-borns: The social climate.
In light of the #MeToo movement and the increased emphasis on gender relations and heightened scrutiny in terms of equality in the workplace, violations of this kind are arguably more damning than ever before, and ones that companies certainly do want to become entangled in ... at all.
Tapestry did not respond to a request for comment.
* The case is Monica Jean Baptiste, v. Tapestry, Inc., 2:18-cv-03275 (D.N.J.).