In resolving a lawsuit filed last year that highlighted the difficulties and discrimination that women continue to face in the workplace, the ACLU of Rhode Island today announced the favorable settlement of the case on behalf of Julia Schultz, a house cleaner who was terminated by a professional cleaning service immediately after they learned she was pregnant. Without admitting liability, the company, Merry Maids business in East Providence, has agreed to award Schultz $50,000 and an additional $5,000 in attorneys’ fees to settle the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, filed by ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Mark Gagliardi, Schultz applied for a house cleaner position with Merry Maids, where she was interviewed by the company’s manager. At the time of the interview, Schultz was 16 weeks pregnant, and she wore a baggy dress to the interview that concealed her pregnancy. Less than a week later, she was offered the position and received a welcome packet in the mail for new employees.
The manager, Deborah Bellamy-Goslin, invited Schultz to attend an orientation program for new hires and recommended that she wear appropriate clothing for doing cleaning, so Schultz attended in a T-shirt and jeans. After Schultz arrived, Bellamy-Goslin had a secretary take her to the break room while Bellamy-Goslin made some phone calls. When Bellamy-Goslin returned, she asked Schultz if she was pregnant. When Schultz confirmed she was, Bellamy-Goslin said that she couldn’t offer her the job “because of the physical demands.” Bellamy-Goslin further advised her that she “‘should be at home taking care of that special gift from God’ or words to that effect,” and that she could reapply for the job after the birth of the baby.
Responding to the settlement, Schultz said today: “I am very pleased with the outcome of this case and proud of the awareness we have brought to this issue. I hope this resolution brings women an awareness of their rights and reminds companies of their responsibility to honor their employees’ rights. I am extremely thankful to my lawyer, Mark Gagliardi, and the ACLU for being so supportive.
ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Gagliardi added: “In Rhode Island, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee or refuse to hire her because she is pregnant. When Merry Maids fired Julia after learning she was pregnant, they broke the law. By taking legal action, Julia was able to hold this employer accountable for a blatant violation of her legal rights. Importantly, Julia secured a victory not only for women, but for all workers.”
ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown noted: “Ms. Schultz’s experience remains an important reminder that employers are obligated to ensure equal treatment of pregnant employees and job applicants. We welcome the resolution of this case but know that our work to advance the goal of gender equality in Rhode Island remains an ongoing battle.”