Heartland Dental accused of gender discrimination in Madison County suit

By The Madison County Record | Sep 17, 2014

A Collinsville woman accuses Heartland Dental of discriminating against her because she was pregnant.

Jennifer Crain, formerly known as Jennifer Krueger, filed a lawsuit Sept. 2 in Madison County Circuit Court against Heartland Dental Care, Dental Professionals of Illinois and Jessica Doherty.

According to the complaint, Crain worked for Heartland Dental for seven years. She says she worked as a practice administrator for at least four dental offices that were profitable, earning her quarterly bonuses between $800 and $2,000.

Jessica Doherty was named regional administrator, according to the complaint, and became Crain's supervisor. In January 2013, Crain says she told Doherty she was pregnant. Doherty allegedly told Crain doctor appointments related to the pregnancy "could not in any way 'interfere' with her work schedule."

Crain says shortly after informing Heartland about her pregnancy, high-profit offices where she was practice administrator were "taken from her and given to Doherty's personal friend, Heather Helstley. Crain alleges the move dramatically reduced her opportunity for bonus pay. Doherty allegedly told Crain she was holding her to a "higher standard" than the other practice administrators.

In February 2013, Crain says she expressed concern to Doherty about working around nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, because of studies reporting a potential link between nitrous oxide and miscarriages in female dental assistants. Doherty allegedly refused to make any adjustments and told Crain "she would be fine." Crain alleges she was exposed to nitrous oxide directly on multiple occasions and asked her supervisor to be removed from those situations. She says Doherty refused the requests.

In April 2013, according to the lawsuit, Crain miscarried and was out of work for one week. In June 2013, Crain learned she was pregnant again and told Doherty. On July 17, Crain says she was called to work in an office where nitrous oxide was being used and expressed concerns. Doherty allegedly told Crain she would be fine, but Crain says she worked out of her car to avoid potential risks.

Crain alleges Doherty promoted a personal friend to the level of practice administrator in July, and in August 2013 removed offices from Crain's supervision, again limiting her opportunity for bonus pay.

On Aug. 14, 2013, Crain says she was fired "for purportedly not supporting two dentists, deviating from her work schedule" and a prior alleged disagreement with a dentist. She says the allegations were false and pretextual.

Crain accuses the defendants of discriminating against her based on her gender and her pregnancy. She says Heartland and Doherty intentionally restricted her earning capabilities by moving her to less profitable offices. She also accuses them of placing her in situations they knew could potentially harm her or have a negative impact on her pregnancies. Crain also accuses the defendants of retaliation and sexual harassment.

Crain seeks more than $50,000 for back pay including bonuses and benefits, front pay including the amount lost as a result of her termination and compensatory damages.

Attorney D. Jeffrey Ezra of Collinsville represents Crain.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 14-L-1206.

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