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Suit claims Mothers Work Inc. discriminated against pregnant manager

A former employee of a nationwide maternity-wear retailer has filed a $52 million lawsuit in federal court in Baltimore, alleging that her erstwhile employer discriminated against her because she was pregnant.Laurie Cox, of Baltimore, was a Mothers Work Inc. area manager until she was terminated in January 1999. Her two-count complaint accuses the Philadelphia-based company of violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act.Cox is seeking $2 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages against an employer that, she said, “demonstrated intolerance and discrimination toward pregnant employees,” prior to her own pregnancy.Mothers Work “terminated one pregnant employee on the pretext of lateness and leaving early when similar behavior in a non-pregnant, female employee did not result in termination,” Cox alleges in her complaint.Her employer also “refused to promote an employee who became pregnant during the course of her employment, stating that [the company] wanted to wait to see if the employee returned after maternity leave,” Cox claims.Several calls for comment to Mothers Work were not returned yesterday.Cox claims that she informed her immediate supervisor that she was pregnant and due to deliver on October 23, 1998, and that she wanted to take the time off after the birth of her baby allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act.Her maternity leave actually began when her baby was born on October 12, according to the complaint.However, the day before her baby was born, Cox says her employer told her that Cox “would no longer be managing one of her stores … the Motherhood Maternity Shop located at a mall in Delaware.”She says the grounds she was given for this decision were “poor supervision, below standards maintenance, and high shrinkage,” adding that she was never counseled about these problems prior to this notice.Cox says that on December 8, she “negotiated a return to work date of January 15, 1999” with Mothers Work’s human resources department; but “on December 30, 1998, the schedule for [her] home store was completed and [her] name was not included.” She claims she was constructively discharged on January 4, 1999, when Mothers Work informed her that her position was eliminated due to a reduction in force, because she was offered “a lower position as a store manager” at a $16,000 cut in pay, “equivalent to a 45 percent reduction in salary.” When she asked the human resources department “what her rights would be should she not accept the offered demotion,” Cox says, she was told that “while it was not [Mothers Work’s] policy to grant severance pay, an exception would be made” for her “provided [Cox] sign a release.”But when she called several weeks later to give the company her decision, Cox learned that she had been terminated effective January 11, 1999.