In a case that highlights the difficulties and discrimination that women continue to face in the workplace, the ACLU of Rhode Island charged today that a professional cleaning service terminated an employee who had just been hired immediately after learning she was pregnant. In a lawsuit filed in R.I. Superior Court today on behalf of Bristol resident Julia Schultz, ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Mark Gagliardi is seeking various forms of judicial relief for the company’s violation of the state’s Civil Rights Act.
According to the complaint, Schultz applied for a house cleaner position with Merry Maids business located in East Providence, where she was interviewed by the company’s manager, Deborah Bellamy-Goslin. 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.
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.
The lawsuit seeks a court order finding the company’s conduct unlawful, reinstating Schultz to the position for which she had been hired, issuing an injunction to bar the company from engaging in similar acts of discrimination, and awarding Schultz monetary damages for pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages, for the violation of her rights.
Ms. Schultz said today: “When I left the building that day, I felt so ashamed, like I was doing something wrong by trying to work while pregnant. In a setting where women are expected to do it all, it’s absolutely wrong that any woman should be shamed and prevented from doing what she needs to do for her child.” She added: “I decided to pursue a lawsuit because it comes down to how important I believe it is that women are not denied any opportunity. Especially with Roe v. Wade getting overturned, it’s even more important now to fight for our rights, fight against the wealth gap between men and women, and empower women, not try to keep them down based on old, outdated traditions.”
ACLU of RI attorney Gagliardi added: “I am looking forward to holding this employer accountable for its outrageous and blatantly illegal conduct.”
ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown noted: “This lawsuit is a stark reminder that pregnancy discrimination, based on long-outdated notions of what a pregnant woman like Ms. Schultz can do in the workplace, remains an undeniable reality in the employment setting. Old stereotypes die hard, but we hope that this suit will serve as an alert that remedies are available to those who encounter this type of invidious discrimination in employment.”