Jury awards $1.8 million to Bethel Park woman fired while on maternity leave

Friday November 21, 2008

By Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A jury awarded $1.8 million to a Bethel Park woman in federal court yesterday after it found that her employer fired her improperly during maternity leave.

Carole Smith, 36, filed a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against the company, Normandy Properties LLC, in March 2007.

She had worked there for more than three years and was employed as a property manager.

Ms. Smith gave birth to her son, Tommy, on Nov. 8, 2005, by Caesarean section. He was born with collapsed lungs and pneumonia and was hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit for two weeks. He left the hospital on Nov. 21.

Ms. Smith had planned to take six weeks off -- the amount of time recommended by her physician and allowed by company policy -- but in the third week, Normandy fired her.

"It was a horrible feeling," she said. "It was the biggest slap in the face I ever received."

The jury of seven women and one man deliberated about 2 1/2 hours and awarded $600,000 for compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages.

"We don't make the cost of caring for a sick infant your job," said Sam Cordes, Ms. Smith's attorney. "That's what the jury said pretty emphatically."

Ms. Smith was surprised by the size of the award.

"It's much larger than I ever imagined. I just needed to hear that they were wrong, and the jury said that loud and clear."

After the lawsuit was filed, the company, which is based in Moon, rehired Ms. Smith, and she now works as a leasing agent. She took a week's vacation to be able to attend the trial and will return to work on Sunday.

"I'll keep doing a good job," she said, "because that's my work ethic."

Company officials could not be reached for comment.

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First published on November 21, 2008 at 12:00 am