Tiffany Beats Religious Discrimination Claim
On February 11, 2019, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed an employee’s claim for religious discrimination against the world renowned luxury jewelry retailer, Tiffany and Company.
Plaintiff Kristin Rightnour, a former Director of Marketing, alleged that she was disciplined by Tiffany because of the company’s perception that as a practicing Catholic she held the belief that Jewish people killed Jesus and because she acknowledged that many Catholics believe as much. Rightnour further alleged that after she filed a complaint with the EEOC, Tiffany retaliated against her by denying her a promotion and ultimately terminating her.
Tiffany denied that it discriminated against Rightnour and the Hon. John J. Koeltl agreed. Judge Koeltl held that Tiffany’s actions were based on non-discriminatory reasons including Rightnour’s persistent partnering and communication deficiencies, lack of professionalism, inappropriate comments in the workplace, and abrasive and dismissive attitude in meetings. Among other things, Tiffany employees testified that Rightnour made a series of offensive comments at work including that “all Asians love social media” and “Hispanics love blondes,” as well as the labeling of another employee as a “crazy bodybuilder CrossFit chick.”
While it was true that the initial warning that Rightnour received noted her statement to a Jewish employee that Good Friday is when “your people killed Jesus,” Judge Koeltl held that other evidence discredited Rightnour’s claim that she was disciplined because of her Catholic religion. That evidence included the fact that Catholic employees complained about Rightnour’s behavior and investigated allegations against her and that a new Catholic employee was hired to take over some of Rightnour’s responsibilities.
Judge Koeltl held that Rightnour’s retaliation claim was without merit because Tiffany disciplined her before she filed an EEOC complaint, and thus, she did not demonstrate that her protected activity was the “but for” cause for the alleged retaliatory actions as required by Title VII.