A former attorney for a large law firm in Massachusetts has filed suit against her ex-employer, whom she says fired her for taking leave after an adoption.
Our Boston employment lawyers know that similar to the protected maternity leave extended to new mothers of biological children, adoptive parents are eligible for the same leave under state law.
The Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act, M.G.L. c. 149, 105D, allows for up to eight weeks of time for which a female employee may be absent from her job for the purpose of either giving birth OR adopting a child and then subsequently caring for that new child. The law stipulates that adoptive parents, just like biological parents, may take time to prepare for and participate in the birth.
The protection extends to adoptive parents who are legally adopting any child under the age of 18 or under the age of 23 if the child is physically or mentally disabled. The law holds that the employee has to give at least two weeks’ notice and employers are not allowed to refuse this time, even in cases where doing so would create a hardship.
MMLA affords this opportunity to female employees, though the law makes note that if employers extend this time only to female workers and not male workers, they may be in violation of federal law, even if they are in compliance with the state law.
In this case, the plaintiff alleges that her law firm employer terminated her shortly after she formalized her adoption of a daughter from China and went on her protected leave period. She alleges that despite a long record of stellar reviews, she received her first negative review shortly after the adoption. Further, she was given a significant reduction in bonus pay.
She now says that she was discriminated against, as one of the firm’s older female employees, for taking a period of leave that was unquestionably protected. In addition to economic damages for back pay and interest, she is seeking $5 million compensation for punitive and compensatory damages, as well as attorneys’ fees.
In backing her claim, the plaintiff alleges that in her seven years working for the firm, only one female employee over the age of 50 was promoted to partner. Mind, you this was an agency that employed more than 1,000 lawyers. The majority of those who were so bestowed were under the age of 40, according to her contentions.
Complaints of gender discrimination can be difficult to prove, and require a legal representative with extensive experience. In many cases, it’s not enough to prove that an employer was dishonest about an employment decision; it must be proven that the dishonesty was intended to conceal discriminatory intent.