Worker Says She Was Fired Over Child Care During Pandemic

By Lauren Berg
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Law360 (July 8, 2020, 9:52 PM EDT) -- A San Diego woman claims she was discriminated against and fired from her job with an insurance company because she was trying to juggle care for her two young children while she worked from home during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a lawsuit filed in California state court.

Drisana Rios, who until last month worked as an account executive for global insurance firm HUB International, said she experienced nothing but shame, harassment and inflexibility from her supervisor, Daniel Kabban, when she transitioned to working from home with her 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son in March, according to the complaint.

Rios, who filed the suit last month under her married name Wallace, alleges gender discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination, saying Kabban expected her to take business calls during the day and meet incredibly tight deadlines — all without a peep heard from her children.

Throughout the pandemic, Rios met all of her deadlines and didn't receive a single complaint from clients about her work performance or availability, she said. While getting all of her work done, however, Rios still had to feed her children, put them down for naps and keep them entertained, according to the suit.

But Kabban didn't care and often harassed Rios for having children, she said.

"[Rios] felt shocked, demeaned, and degraded," according to the complaint. "[Rios] felt as if Kabban was shaming her for having children. Kabban was treating her without humanity and regard for the difficulty of teleworking while watching young children."

In May, when Kabban continued to give her rush jobs with tight turnarounds, Rios told him his expectations were unrealistic. She also told him that she had hired a nanny to watch her children three days a week, to show that she was loyal to her job.

Rios told Kabban in an email that she was frustrated with his expectations because she was meeting all of his deadlines, sometimes working late, but couldn't promise that her children would stay quiet 100% of the time.

Kabban responded by admonishing her and setting her up for a coaching appointment to work on her time management skills.

Rios said she was frustrated that Kabban couldn't empathize with her and said that he was a father to two teenagers, with a stay-at-home wife.

"Kabban did not treat fathers the way he treats [Rios]," according to the complaint. "[Rios] observed how Kabban did not have the same expectations of fathers who were teleworking with children as of Rios."

Rios then decided to file a complaint with the company's human resources department about Kabban's "sexist harassment and discrimination," according to the complaint, and asked for help in dealing with the treatment she was receiving.

On June 1, Rios had a coaching call about time management with another supervisor, Jeff Cruz, who also reports to Kabban. When Rios explained that Kabban's demands were unreasonable considering she had small children at home, Cruz accused Rios of being defensive and that he was "tired of accommodating her situation," according to the suit.

Rios said she reported Cruz's statements to the human resources department and the next day was on a telephone call with two of the department's staff, including the vice president of human resources. Rios thought the meeting was to address her concerns about discrimination, but she was instead wrongfully fired in retaliation for her complaints, according to the suit.

Rios was told that she was "clearly not happy" at the company and that HUB was experiencing reduced revenue due to the pandemic and that they were laying her off as a result, according to the complaint.

"Ironically, HUB was using COVID-19 as a bogus justification to terminate Rios, even though it refused to accommodate Rios who had children at home due to COVID-19," according to the suit.

On June 3, Rios said HUB posted a job opening for an account manager, showing that the company was still hiring, despite saying Rios' job was eliminated for financial reasons.

Rios said she is now losing sleep over her ability to find a new job during a pandemic to support her children.

The suit seeks back pay, general and compensatory damages, mental and emotional distress damages, as well as costs of the litigation and attorney fees, among other relief.

"A pandemic should not be used as an excuse to wrongfully terminate someone," Rios' attorney, Daphne A.M. Delvaux of Gruenberg Law, told Law360 on Thursday. "It's ironic that they had no compassion for her working from home with kids due to the pandemic ... but when they looked for an excuse to disguise the retaliation of my client the pandemic was their fabricated reason."

"They used the pandemic both as a shield and a sword," she said.

Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Rios is represented by Joshua D. Gruenberg and Daphne A.M. Delvaux of Gruenberg Law.

Counsel information for HUB International and Kabban was not immediately available.

The suit is Drisana Wallace v. Hub International Insurance Services Inc. et al., case number 37-2020-00019040, in California Superior Court for San Diego County.

--Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from the plaintiff's attorney.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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