Cynthia Papageorge, a former district manager for the 900-store Mothers Work, Inc., has filed a suit in the US District Court in Boston alleging she was illegally terminated because of her pregnancy. The allegations come after a new company vice president told Papageorge she was unable to handle the position, “in [her] state” and eventually let her go when she requested leave for an unrelated post-pregnancy shoulder injury, according to a report by the Boston Globe.
The pregnancy termination wake did not end with her either, Papageorge said in the discrimination complaint against the chain that operates such stores as A Pea in the Pod, Mimi Maternity, and Motherhood stores. The company fired two other pregnant managers as well as Papageorge’s boss, who says she was terminated because she refused to fire Papageorge, the suit claimed. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
”It seems that pregnant women are subject to termination by virtue of their pregnancy,” said Papageorge’s attorney Mark Itzkowitz. ”That position was made known in meetings with managers at Mothers Work. The other women were terminated for the same reason.”
Of three other suits alleging discrimination against pregnant workers, two were settled out of court and one was dismissed.
A Mothers Work official called the charge the company discriminates against pregnant employees ”as far from the truth as possible. ”We’re a company founded by a pregnant woman and we’re an organization of women,” said Sheryl Rothrogers, Vice President of Marketing. ”We actually moved the case ourselves to federal court to get a more timely opportunity to present the facts of the case. We have comprehensive policies and practices in place designed to affirmatively and proactively help our diverse workplace balance family and work.”
Emptying the Nest
Pagageorge’s suit claims the trouble began when the company’s new Vice President, Frank Mullay, sought to have her fired after visiting her in October 1999 – her 37th week of pregnancy – and being appalled at her appearance. Mullay ordered Papageorge’s boss ”to replace her while she was on maternity leave . . . to terminate her employment,” according to an affidavit filed by Papageorge’s then-boss, Jan Dowe, the company’s Director of Stores.
Dowe instead told Mullay she wanted to seek an opinion from company personnel officials, who told her firing Papageorge while on maternity leave would be illegal. Yet Mullay was undeterred, allegedly telling Dowe, ”there are ways of getting around the law.”
The affidavit the says Dowe herself was fired after being told her job performance was sub par because she had not terminated Papageorge, who eventually returned to work after giving birth. However, a few months later, Papageorge was fired after requesting a medical leave for a shoulder injury, the suit alleges.
Following her termination, Dowe filed suit against the company in California. A confidential settlement was reached in Dowe’s case.
Additionally, another high-level manager allegedly was terminated because of her pregnancy. One day before Laura Lacey, the company’s director of its lease division, was scheduled to return to work from maternity leave she was told her job had been eliminated, according to her lawyer. ”They offered her a low-level job in Cleveland,” the attorney said. ”They didn’t offer a comparable job.”
However, lawyers for the company argued that a federal judge in New York City should dismiss the case on grounds that the company had been restructured and Lacey’s job eliminated, not that she was fired. The court agreed and dismissed the case.
The company’s treatment of its pregnant workers was also questioned during litigation involving Washington state employees of Mothers Work who sued for overtime pay. According to a lawyer for the terminated female managers, pregnant employees were treated poorly.
A jury awarded the women about $400,000 in damages.