Banker alleges she was harassed, wrongfully fired over pregnancy leave

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A former JP Morgan Chase bank employee who worked at a Carson branch alleges she was harassed and later wrongfully fired in 2019 for taking an extended medical leave after suffering postpartum depression subsequent to the birth of her second child.

Joanna Herrera-Ceja’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit also names as a defendant Ashli Jernigan, identified in the complaint as the branch manager at the Chase branch in the SouthBay Pavilion mall on Avalon Boulevard.

The lawsuit’s allegations include wrongful discharge, employment discrimination, retaliation, interference with pregnancy disability leave and harassment. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in the suit filed Thursday.

A Chase representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

Herrera-Ceja was hired at Chase in September 2015 as a relationship banker responsible for selling financial services and fostering client relationships with the bank, the suit states. Throughout her employment, she consistently exceeded her monthly sales goals, according to the suit.

Herrera-Ceja says she became pregnant in March 2016 and told Jernigan about a month later that she was due to deliver in early November of that year.

The plaintiff took her maternity leave under the state Family and Medical Leave Act in October 2016 and returned in February 2017, at which time she asked Jernigan if she could transfer to a branch closer to home in order to care for her newborn and reduce her commute time, the suit states.

Jernigan replied angrily that she would speak to Chase’s executive director, the suit alleges. Meanwhile, Herrera-Ceja contacted the branch manager at a branch in Long Beach closer to her home, where there was an open position for a relationship banker, the suit states.

Herrera-Ceja says she arrived as scheduled for her interview at the Long Beach branch, but the branch manager was not there. When the plaintiff called the Long Beach branch manager to ask what happened, the latter told her that Jernigan had called and said Herrera-Ceja would not be attending the interview, according to the lawsuit.

According to the plaintiff, the Long Beach branch interview was rescheduled for later that day and she was offered and accepted the position. But when Herrera-Ceja told Jernigan that she accepted the job in Long Beach, Jernigan refused to allow her to transfer, explaining that the plaintiff was one of her best bankers, the suit alleges.

Jernigan later changed Herrera-Ceja’s hours so that the plaintiff had to leave work later in the day than she wished, called her “selfish” and said that she only cared about money and micromanaged her interactions with clients, the suit alleges.

After Herrera-Ceja became pregnant again in January 2018, Jernigan said, “Wow, you heifer … how come you didn’t want to tell me?” and the plaintiff walked away without answering, the suit alleges. Later, Jernigan threatened to revoke the plaintiff’s planned vacation, even though Herrera- Ceja had booked international flights and hotels, according to the plaintiff.

In another interaction, Jernigan “violently swung” a chair before placing it between her and the plaintiff at a time Herrera-Ceja was six months pregnant, the suit alleges. Jernigan also allegedly harassed the plaintiff for wearing flat-heeled shoes instead of high heels and commented on her growing belly size.

Herrera-Ceja gave birth to her second child in September 2018, but later suffered postpartum depression and was placed on medical leave that was extended three months later with Chase’s approval so she could have more time to recuperate, according to her court papers. She says she later found out that Chase had posted her position as open to applicants.

Herrera-Ceja says she abided by Chase’s instructions for requesting additional leave time in May 2019, but the bank refused and she was fired the following month.

Herrea-Ceja has incurred medical expenses and suffered humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress and substantial losses in earnings and job benefits, according to the suit.

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