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Exclusive Susan Crumiller interview: Have you suffered employment discrimination?

Have you ever suffered from employment discrimination in the workplace? Worried your job was on the line while on maternity leave? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Susan Crumiller has been helping those in need through her litigation firm, Crumiller P.C.. Their mission? “To help you succeed in the workplace, in whatever way that means to you.”

Want to learn more about the current lawsuit against fitness centers Equinox? Read on and watch our exclusive interview with Susan Crumiller. 

Who is Susan Crumiller?

Susan Crumiller is the founder of Crumiller P.C., a feminist litigation firm dedicated to fighting gender & pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Following her own experience of discrimination at work, Crumiller aims to help others facing a similar issue. 

Crumiller P.C. provides skilled representation in all types of employee matters, including race discrimination, age discrimination, executive compensation, sexual harassment, negotiating severance, securing reasonable accommodations, family and medical leave, and employment agreements.  

Following her graduation from NYU Law, Susan Crumiller spent ten years representing tenants in fast-paced landlord-tenant litigation, first-seating a dozen trials and winning appeals. After Crumiller had her second child, her employer began pressuring her to return to work only seven weeks into her maternity leave, in violation of their agreement that she could take five months off to bond with her newborn. 

Susan Crumiller kept thinking about other new parents who lacked the resources & job security to return to work on their own terms. Crumiller decided to create her own law firm aimed at fighting for the rights of new working parents to enjoy family life and work without the worry of dismissal. 

Susan Crumiller is the President of the Board of Directors at the Gender Equality Law Center, a nonprofit organization that advances laws & policies promoting gender justice and racial equity through litigation & advocacy.  She’s a volunteer Small Claims Arbitrator and a singer in the Cecilia Chorus of New York where she performs at Carnegie Hall twice a year.

Fight for justice

With COVID-19 impacting everyone, Susan Crumiller has seen a rise in calls to her firm for help through this crazy year. People have been fired due to lockdown restrictions and Crumiller has claimed that the majority of people losing their jobs are pregnant or on maternity leave.

Self-proclaimed feminist Susan Crumiller is currently fighting the good fight against Equinox for wrongfully terminating an employee and treating them negatively. Crumiller P.C. strives to make the American workplace more equal, resulting in better lives for employees who are fulfilling their goals, and a better economy by eliminating wasted potential.

Make sure you read Susan Crumiller’s interview transcript below.

Your law firm Crumiller P.C. focuses on discrimination cases. What inspired you to open a firm dedicated to these cases?

I actually had been a litigator for about 10 years when I gave birth to my second daughter and my boss at the time, basically tried to screw me out of my maternity leave. I was furious. 

But mostly I was upset. It was, it was a really difficult time, I felt really lonely and ashamed, even though I felt like I had a lot of resources and I was sort of surprised and how hard it was for me, and I basically just thought about all the other women in that situation who wouldn’t have had the ability as I did to stand up for myself. And I said, I’m going to go start a pregnancy Rights Law Firm. So that’s how the firm started, it was just me in my living room.

And you know, we focus on primarily on gender and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, but we’re very proud to also handle a large caseload of race discrimination cases, we also do LGBT discrimination, and we are actually launching a new practice area. Fighting race disparities in maternal health care where we bring medical malpractice cases using a civil rights context. So we sort of started off mostly as employment, and we’ve been expanding into doing a broader spectrum of feminist litigation.

Is this case your first time focusing on race-based discrimination?

No, we had lots of race discrimination cases.

Why did you decide to take on your client’s case against Equinox Fitness Club? 

When people come to our firm looking for help. We do an assessment and representing plaintiffs and employment discrimination is a little bit trickier than many kinds of litigation and that we only have one side of things at the very beginning. And we know that the employer is going to have a totally different take on everything that’s transpired. 

And it involves a lot of judgement. And frankly, a lot of times when we take cases. I mean, fundamentally, it’s kind of like how pissed off do I get hearing about this conduct.

When Robin came to our firm and told us what had happened to her. We were just so outraged. It was, you know, it was a no brainer. Um, we, we just. It was shocking to us how horribly disrespectful Equinox had been to her. How horrifically they had failed to address these issues that were occurring so openly. Um, even though they knew about it. You know, companies usually try to say oh we didn’t know what was happening or we didn’t realize, and Robin kept complaining and other employees too kept bringing these issues up to equinoxes attention and they just didn’t care. 

At the end of the day, you know they terminated her employment, claiming that there was lateness issues, which, you know, it’s just funny everyone who comes to our firm, supposedly is always late to work. It’s funny that all of these people, women, and people of color they seem so smart and, like, I’m so dedicated to their work it’s just it’s a hilarious coincidence that all of them are always have these tardiness problems. And yet, all these other people have tardiness problems and doesn’t seem to make a difference. 

You know, in Equinox. It timeliness, some jobs, timeliness obviously matters more than others, and in her case she, like the other managers. It was that she was equally flexible as the other managers and other managers would come in later than her and nobody cared. So that’s the very definition of what lawyers call pretextual.

Walk us through the typical process of a discrimination lawsuit. 

So, we’re in New York City. There’s actually three different places you can File, New York. So, we’re in federal court. But New York State and New York City both have very robust human rights laws that are actually much more plaintiff-friendly than the federal laws. So New York City has its own Human Rights Commission, that will investigate and pursue cases. 

Actually, there’s for week four places you could in theory File, New York State, you could file on the New York City commission New York State court or New York State Court has its own commission, or you can file on federal court, which is what we did. When you file in federal court on discrimination claim you first have to go through the EEOC which is an administrative process. 

It’s just a prerequisite to filing in court or you have to first file at the administrative agency with the theory being that they’ll do their own investigation and potentially their own prosecution real life, you know, especially nowadays, you know, 2020 and coronavirus all of no government agency is really operating it at its best.

But you still have to go through those motions. So once you file in court, um, you know we serve our complaint which includes our allegations. The other side serves their answer, which you know denies everything, of course. And then there’s discovery, which means both sides exchange all their documents, conduct depositions of each other, which is you know sworn interviews of the other side’s witnesses. 

Usually there’s a mediation there’s actually in, in, in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, there is a mandatory mediation programme and employment discrimination cases. So that’s, you know, a part of the process as well. And then if you know you fight over discovery, and then you go to trial.

We talk to a lot of people who are intimidated to pursue legal action and I understand, because there’s still a lot of victim blaming that’s really the main reason I think most people don’t end up filing is not because they don’t have the stomach for litigation although it does take a lot of stomach. But because they’re worried about the reputation and they’re worried that if people saw they filed a case, everyone’s going to think of them as a troublemaker.

And the truth is that their concerns are understandable, even in a you know a race discrimination case or a sexual harassment case people look askance on victims and on people who stand up and speak out. So, in my dream world.

In understanding that description, I don’t think most people really understand that sorry my phone’s ringing. It’s okay. I don’t think most people really understand how discrimination works and that is a real thing. Most people are surprised when they hear about our cases, and all of the horrific behavior that we witness every single day that our clients have suffered. And so, and I think there’s a lot of lip service paid to equality and diversity and Black Lives Matter, you know, Equinox put out. I mean every single company put out Black Lives Matter branding. But that means nothing.

If a company doesn’t actually care about fostering egalitarian an egalitarian workplace, then their words are completely hollow, which this was such an example of. And I think that the more we, the more people that come forward and talk about how discrimination, really, really does hurt people. And it really does stymie their careers. It is painful. It holds people back. It means that black people make less money that women make less money in advance. And the big shame is the inability to come forward and talk about it. Because of that fundamental understanding that it’ll blow back on on somebody. Yeah.

What mistakes do you think most companies make when it comes to discrimination and/or sexual harassment policies? 

I actually tend to believe that most quote unquote company policies, don’t really matter because you can have policies on the books, and it what happened What matters is what you really do in real life, um, you know, in litigation there’s a ferriter our defence says that if a company has a policy and a means of addressing discrimination, if the employee file fails to avail themselves of that process, then the company, that’s a legitimate defence to the company. 

And every most companies have some boilerplate and their handbook that says we don’t tolerate Reese discrimination we don’t tolerate sexual harassment. And that means nothing unless you actually unless the company actually takes steps to enforce it and to use it, and to care when people complain. You know, our client complained many times to equinox, and they just shrugged her off, and we see that all the time in our cases.

What cases have you fought so far that you’re most proud of?

I’m so proud of so many of our cases. Um, but the cases that make me absolutely the most proud are cases where, you know, it happens a lot that people call our firm, and they say, I don’t know what happened to me was really so bad. I don’t know that this is worth pursuing, I’m on the fence about whether to take any action. And when we tell them like, yes, you have a case, this was wrong what happened she was wrong, but they’ve been so gaslit that it’s hard to see the, it’s hard to take a step back. 

Being in a bad employment situation is similar to being in a bad relationship or an abusive relationship where it becomes your reality and so you adapt to it as your normal your sense of normal becomes very warped. And so when people come to us, a lot of times we’re helping them to take a step back and say this is not okay you deserve better.

And those are the cases that make me the most proud when we get a great recovery, and I think to myself, you know, they could have just walked away this this employee this victim could have just walked away, and nothing would ever have changed, you know no justice would have ever been achieved. And instead, our client feels super proud. You know, they felt they feel empowered and they got money.

It’s the best feeling in the world. My, my favourite thing is seeing what my clients have done with their money that we got for them. Um, you know we have clients who bought a house, you have a client who made her first film who created her first film.

That is just, I feel like we took bad. We took evil, you know, bad behaviour and we split it into gold. And I’m a splitter I don’t know what could be better. It’s a huge blessing to do this work.

How has COVID-19 affected your law firm’s business?

So, we have seen, like every employment attorney, every you know employees attorney is getting tonnes of calls this year because there’s so many layoffs. And what we primarily have gotten a tonne of calls this year is from pregnant women and women on maternity leave, who somehow coincidentally are part of every single round of layoffs. No matter how many people are laid off, I can pretty much guarantee you that the batch will include the pregnant woman or the woman on maternity leave, or the woman who just got back from maternity leave, which we call the danger zone. 

Most people don’t know that, but caregiver discrimination is just as much as a part of reality is Pregnancy Discrimination. So we’re representing a lot of women who were laid off this year, during their maternity leave, or during their pregnancies. We also established a pro bono hotline.

We and we did actually some pro bono representation for first responders, where you know we set up a system where we were giving free legal advice to anyone who called, and we also gave provided some free representation for people who had to quit their jobs because it was unsafe, and they didn’t feel safe to physically return, as well as people who were unable to return because of facing childcare issues, and we wanted to ensure that they weren’t fired in retaliation. 

So I was really proud of our efforts to help and I was really excited that my team was able to jump in and and make a difference for so many people.

What advice can you offer expecting parents about how to manage maternity/paternity leave? 

I would say new parents and expecting parents, spend a lot of time and energy, focusing on stuff, and kind of all the little things. What brand of diapers. What style of cars the you know what colour nursery and I love all of that and I don’t mean to denigrate all of that, but I think that people, people in general, don’t tend to take their employment situation seriously enough, and don’t tend to be prepared for the sort of discrimination that so many new parents go through, You know our clients are so often surprised by their employers mistreatment.

And people think, oh I’m pregnant so I can’t be fired or oh I’m on maternity leave, so I can be fired. And we have a lot of it. We give a lot of advice for people about how to maintain your job security and how to negotiate for yourself.

I think, you know, we’ve done a little presentation series on negotiating your family leave, but I think kind of what it boils down to is to make the decision that your employment situation is important and that you want to set an example for your future children to be a person who shakes their own destiny who stands up for themselves, who creates their own circumstances, and that means toughening up for many, many people most of us, myself included. It’s not easy, but I think we owe it to ourselves.

Since you started your law firm, do you feel you’re seeing an overall improvement in workplace equity – or has discrimination gotten worse? 

I would definitely be more someone who’s been a longer term practitioner would have more to say on this, but I have been practising through the me to era, and I think it really depends on the company’s values. 

There’s plenty of places that there’s a big disconnect between the lip service and the reality, and lots of company you know like coming back to our Equinox case with the race discrimination, lots of companies can say Oh me too Oh Black Lives Matter, and it can mean absolutely nothing for their employees. I think there is more companies feel more of an obligation to pay lip service, but I just don’t think it necessarily translates into any real action. So, it’s hard to say. 

Um, of course there are plenty of people who are actually paying attention and who are trying their best and you’re learning. And I do like to think that things are improving slowly over time.

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