Having a baby, losing a job: Feds say N.J. realty company fired pregnant workers

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued a New Jersey real estate management company saying it discriminated against its pregnant employees.

Brianna Mazzella had been working at Friedman Realty Group’s Prospect Park office for about five months when, in March 2013, she told her supervisor that she was pregnant, the lawsuit said.

“When women get pregnant, they get stupid,” and “pregnancy makes you retarded,” was the reaction of Mazzella’s boss, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the company by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Sept. 29.

The supervisor gave Mazzella more onerous tasks and scrutinized her work more closely, terminating her in August, after telling another supervisor that “we had to get rid” of her.

Two other Friedman employees were also fired when they told their bosses they were pregnant, the lawsuit said. Federal law prohibits discrimination against pregnant employees.

“It’s bad for a society when an employer deprives hardworking women and their families of their livelihood because of pregnancy,” Kevin Berry, the EEOC’s district director said in a statement.

Friedman vice president David Friedman said Wednesday that his company deeply values “fairness, diversity, and inclusion” and “takes seriously any claims of discrimination of any kind.” However, he said, the company has done nothing improper and “did not terminate any of these women for the reason advanced in the complaint.”

Friedman, based in Gibbsboro, acquires and manages apartment complexes, shopping centers, and professional office buildings.

The EEOC’s suit asks the judge to order Friedman to carry out practices that don’t discriminate against pregnant women and to pay compensatory and punitive damages to the three women and other pregnant women who may have faced discrimination.

The same supervisor who fired Mazzella was involved in firing another pregnant employee in the same office, the lawsuit said. In April 2013, after working at the Prospect Park office for nearly three years as a cleaner, Allison Robovitsky told the supervisor that she was pregnant and was immediately written up for bad performance. Three days later, she was fired.

A similar thing occurred in Friedman’s Somers Point office, where Nichole Milano had worked as a leasing agent for nearly two years, the lawsuit said. In January 2017, Milano informed the company that she was pregnant. In March, her position was advertised and in April, she was fired, the suit said.

In the lawsuit, the EEOC said it had tried to reach a settlement with Friedman, but was unsuccessful. The supervisor, reached by phone at her new employer, referred questions to Friedman. None of the three women mentioned in the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Camden, could be reached for comment.