When Mallory Barker learned she was pregnant, it should have been cause for celebration. Instead, she found herself unemployed.
The story goes like this: In late August 2011, Barker’s aunt, Cindy Safstrom, hired the 20-something college student and sometimes nanny as a part-time after school arts and crafts instructor at the prestigious University School of Milwaukee (USM), a private K-12 school. Two months later, Barker, who also lived with her aunt, discovered she was expecting and told her cousin (Safstrom’s daughter). Two days after sharing the news, she received a voicemail from her aunt announcing her dismissal.’
Specifically, Safstrom told Barker that she would “have to let [her] go” and that it’s “just not working out the way we had anticipated,” according to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Senior Trial Attorney Dennis R. McBride.
Barker filed a charge with the EEOC in 2012, claiming she was fired on the basis of her pregnancy, which the agency accepted.
“You tell me, does that sound like someone being told they still have a job?” McBride, one of leading litigator in Barker’s case, told RH Reality Check. “It’s clearly not ‘I want you to work for me forever and a day.’”
According to the Joint Scheduling Conference Report, the school denied these allegations, insisting that Barker “walked off the job” and didn’t return to work per request. Besides, she was not punctual and performed her job poorly, asserted USM—although, says McBride, the school had taken no action to terminate her employment on this basis. (He admits the contested termination is not so much a reflection of the school as it is the possibility of a “rogue employee.”) The school agreed to settle the suit (EEOC v. University School of Milwaukee) in March, paying $37,500 in relief.
“Unfortunately, [the Barker case] is another example of blatant discrimination workers continue to face based on pregnancy,” Sarah Crawford, director of workplace fairness for the National Partnership for Women and Families, told RH Reality Check.