Emily Norris of Westbrook claims in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland that the city fired her just days after she revealed she was pregnant.
A former administrative worker for the city of Portland has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit claiming she was illegally fired just days after she revealed to her boss that she was pregnant.
Emily Norris of Westbrook had worked for the city for less than two months when she requested on Oct. 1 that she be temporarily reassigned from the Oxford Street Homeless Shelter during her pregnancy because of safety concerns there, and because of her diminished immune system.
She was then fired on Oct. 6 in violation of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, according to the lawsuit.
“Emily Norris was fired because she was pregnant,” one of Norris’ attorneys, Jordan Payne, said in an emailed statement. “Just two work days after Emily told her supervisor, Aaron Geyer, that she was pregnant, he fired her for ‘taking too many sick days.’ Emily had taken 3 1/2 sick days, and they were ALL approved by Geyer himself. In fact, for one of the days Emily was out sick, it was because Geyer had actually sent her home from work for being sick.”
Jessica Grondin, a spokeswoman for the city of Portland, declined to comment on the lawsuit, adding that the city does not comment on personnel matters.
Norris claims in the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland that in her first weeks at the homeless shelter, she “encountered hazardous and dangerous conditions,” including improperly disposed needles, people behaving erratically, a woman trying to grab her and nearly being kicked in the stomach by a man having a seizure.
Norris began working for the city last Aug. 8 as a financial eligibility specialist, interviewing people applying for benefits through the Department of Health and Human Services. As part of her job, she worked three to four hours of her nine-hour shift at the homeless shelter, the lawsuit states.
During her two months on the job, Norris missed a half day of work to have her car repaired, a full day of work when her dog died, and three and a half days due to sickness. The lawsuit states that all that time off was approved and that she had a doctor’s note to miss work because of the flu.
Norris met with her boss, Aaron Geyer, on Oct. 1 to tell him she was two months pregnant and that her doctors and midwives advised her to refrain from working at the shelter during her pregnancy.
On Oct. 6, Geyer told her during a termination meeting with a human resources employee, Krista Morris, that she wasn’t a good fit for the job and that she had taken too many sick days, according to the lawsuit filed on her behalf by attorneys, Payne and Rebecca Webber, of the Auburn law firm Skelton Taintor and Abbott.
“Emily was stunned. She asked Geyer if she was being fired because she was pregnant. Geyer said, ‘No,’ and added, ‘I don’t have to give you a reason,’” Payne and Webber wrote in the 15-page complaint. “Emily then told Geyer that, when going over her hiring paperwork, another human resources representative, Wanda Cook, had told Emily that she would be given some sort of warning before she was terminated. Geyer replied, ‘This is a probationary period. I don’t have to do that.’”
Webber said that in Maine, employers are not required to give a reason when firing an employee, regardless of whether the employee is on probationary status.
“Even if the person is on probation, you can’t fire them for a protected category,” Webber said.
Norris has accused the city of discrimination both under state and federal law, retaliation under state law and violating her constitutional rights to equal protection. She is seeking seeking repayment for lost pay and benefits and an unspecified amount in damages.
After being fired, Norris gave birth to a healthy baby boy and has since found a new job, though it pays considerably less than her city job, Payne said.