Law Firm Staffer Claims Pregnancy Got Her Fired

Patience Haggin, The Recorder

SAN FRANCISCO - A former office assistant in Arnold & Porter's San Francisco office has sued the firm and the staffing agency that placed her, saying she was fired after supervisors learned she was pregnant. Salena Wright filed a wrongful termination and gender discrimination suit in San Francisco Superior Court last week, alleging the firm and the agency, Williams Lea, Inc., declined to make her employment permanent after she became pregnant during a three-month probationary period earlier this year. The suit claims a male supervisor told her to keep quiet about her pregnancy and peppered her with questions like "Are you able to do the work" and "Have you told anyone at Arnold & Porter?"

Less than two months into her job as an office services assistant working for $15 per hour, Wright learned she was pregnant and informed her supervisors, who were employees of Williams Lea, according to her complaint, which was filed September 18. Her supervisors told her to keep her pregnancy a secret from the staff at Arnold & Porter, according to the complaint.

Wright's attorney Daniel Feder, an employment attorney at the Law Offices of Daniel Feder, alleges in the suit that she complained to an HR manager for Williams Lea about her supervisor's urging her not to disclose her pregnancy and reported that she had been required to cancel doctor appointments relating to her pregnancy.

Douglas Winthrop, managing partner of Arnold & Porter's San Francisco and Silicon Valley offices, said the firm does not comment on pending litigation. Williams Lea, Inc. did not respond to requests for comment made Tuesday. The firm and the staffing agency have not yet responded in court.

Wright says she got good feedback during her probationary period and was told she could expect to keep the job. However, her employment was terminated on June 30, several days after her probationary period had ended. It's not clear in the suit whether her supervisors at Arnold & Porter were aware of her pregnancy.

To prevail, Wright will have to show her employers took her pregnancy into account in their decision not to extend her employment, said Kelly Armstrong of The Armstrong Law Firm in San Francisco.

Armstrong, a plaintiffs lawyer who specializes in discrimination cases, said it was typical for suits of this kind to allege joint employer liability against both the staffing agency and the contracting company.

Armstrong noted that Wright's probationary employment was at will. "Even if she was given positive feedback regarding her work performance, ultimately the employer can decide whether to make her employment status permanent or not," she said.

Wright is seeking back pay, punitive and compensatory damages.