Maternity-clothing retailer settles lawsuit

One of its stores in St. Augustine was accused of discriminating against pregnant women.

Published January 14, 2007

PHILADELPHIA - A maternity-clothing retailer has agreed to pay $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging it refused to hire qualified applicants because they were pregnant and then fired an assistant manager in St. Augustine who complained about it.

The suit filed last year against Philadelphia-based Mothers Work Inc. was based on alleged incidents at a Motherhood Maternity store in St. Augustine.

The largest part of the settlement goes to the former assistant manager, LaShonda Burns, who started at the St. Augustine store in November 2001. According to the suit, Burns noticed a pattern of discrimination in October 2003 and complained. She was fired in August 2004 after her boss told her that she believed Burns was pregnant. She wasn't.

Two job applicants - who, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, were denied employment at that store because of their pregnancies - will receive $20,000. A third woman who the EEOC said lost her job at the store because of her pregnancy will also receive $20,000.

"It is shocking that a corporation whose market is pregnant women would refuse to employ them and then retaliate against a woman who complained," Nora Curtin, supervisory trial attorney of the Miami District office, said in a statement.

Rebecca Matthias, who founded Mothers Work in 1982 when she was pregnant, dismissed as ridiculous any allegations that the company would have a policy discriminating against pregnant women.

The company settled the lawsuit last week to avoid litigation costs, Matthias said.