HR Strange But True!
July 29, 2005

Unfortunately, lawsuits accusing an employer of pregnancy discrimination are common. But this caught our attention because the employer is, of all things, a retailer of maternity clothes.

Cynthia Papageorge filed the lawsuit against Mothers Work Inc., a Philadelphia-based company with more than 1,100 stores under the names Motherhood Maternity, A Pea in the Pod, Mimi Maternity, and Destination Maternity. She was working as a district manager, overseeing four stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, when a company vice-president, Frank Mullay, made a surprise inspection of the stores in October 1999, she said in the lawsuit. Papageorge was approaching her due date at the time, according to the suit, and Mullay questioned whether she was capable of doing her job in her "condition" and in her "state."

Her lawyer elaborated in a pre-trial memo: "He suggested that Ms. Papageorge's pregnancy was interfering with her job performance."

Mullay also criticized the "housekeeping standards" in three of the four stores Papageorge supervised, then questioned why she was taking weekends off to attend childbirth classes, according to the memo from lawyer Mark Itzkowitz.

Mullay next directed Papageorge's supervisor to fire her, Itzkowitz wrote. But the supervisor refused, with the company's head of HR chiming in with a warning that firing Papageorge would be illegal. Mullay allegedly countered that "there are always ways of getting around" the law, the supervisor claimed in an affidavit.

Papageorge kept her job long enough to give birth and return to work. But she took a medical leave of absence in May 2000, claiming an injured shoulder, and was fired a month later.

The Associated Press reports that in court papers, Mullay and Mothers Work denied a connection between Papageorge's pregnancy and her termination. Rather, they claimed her shoulder injury wasn't job-related and didn't entitle her to medical leave or guarantee she could return to her job. In addition, the company claimed Mullay wasn't involved in the firing; her position was one of several eliminated in a corporate restructuring, it said.

The lawsuit went to trial this week in U.S. District Court in Boston. But a day after lawyers for both sides made opening arguments, a settlement was reached, according to the Boston Globe. No terms of the deal were disclosed--except that Papageorge and her legal team were barred from discussing the case.

Sources: Boston Globe and the Associated Press (via the Globe)

TGIF - It's HR
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