Iowa Pays $180,000 to Working Mom Fired by State

By MIKE GLOVER | July 25, 2011

The state has agreed to pay $180,000 to settle the claim of a state worker who was fired after her supervisor expressed skepticism that working mothers can handle high-pressure jobs.

That supervisor, Roya Stanley, then resigned from her job at the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress on Thursday, the day The Associated Press began questioning agency officials about the settlement.

Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said Friday night that Stanley didn’t give a reason for her resignation.

Lawyers for the fired worker, Jennifer Wright, said they believe it’s among the first discrimination cases of its kind in Iowa and sets an important precedent for working mothers. The Iowa attorney general’s office released a copy of the settlement this month in response to a request from the AP.

“There’s a perception that you can’t do the job if you have children,” said Des Moines lawyer Melissa Hasso. “We’re encouraging women to go out there and be successful in the workplace, but women are battling these preconceptions.”

Wright filed the lawsuit after being fired from her job as deputy director of the Office of Energy Independence, which she had held since 2007. She reported to Stanley, who was the agency’s director. That agency has since been folded into the Partnership for Economic Progress.

Stanley couldn’t be reached for comment.

“By all accounts, Wright exceeded every expectation of the position,” Wright’s lawyers said in her lawsuit, noting that in performance reviews she got through 2009 “Stanley repeatedly praised Wright for her continuous ability to meet pressing deadlines, positive attitude and dedication.”

But court records also said there were problems. The lawsuit claimed Stanley “repeated stereotypical comments to Wright about the work commitment of women with children,” and inquired frequently about her childcare arrangements.

“Stanley, a divorced woman with no children, had an archaic view of working mothers,” Wright’s lawyers wrote. “Stanley’s comments to Wright and others made it clear that she believed that Wright, as a mother with a young child, was unable or unwilling to work long hours, that she was less dependable than other employees, that she was not committed to her job and that family responsibilities were impacting Wright’s work performance.”

Wright argued she worked 50 hours a week, including from home when needed, and that no performance issues were documented during her tenure. Despite that, she claimed in her lawsuit that Stanley maintained she wasn’t working enough, leading to her being fired on Aug. 14, 2009.

The lawsuit stated that, “When Wright asked her why, Stanley told Wright she was being terminated for the issues they had discussed three weeks earlier: Wright’s working hours, lack of dedication and life priorities.”

After she was fired, Wright’s lawsuit said Stanley replaced her with a man who worked the same number of hours as Wright without complaint from Stanley.

Wright filed a lawsuit, which a judge refused to dismiss. The state then agreed to a settlement on April 25 of this year.

Officials at the Partnership for Economic Progress referred all questions to the Iowa attorney general’s office.

Eric Tabor, chief of staff to Attorney General Tom Miller, said the state agreed to the $180,000 settlement but didn’t admit to any wrongdoing.

“We believe the state had a strong legal defense to this lawsuit and in settling the case the state did not admit wrongdoing,” said Tabor. “However, we decided that settlement of the case was appropriate under these circumstances to limit the potential financial liability of the state and its taxpayers.”

The $180,000 the state agreed to pay covers lost wages and attorney fees as well as $78,740.87 for “emotional distress” the incident has cause Wright. Her lawyers said Wright now works for the Department of Natural Resources.

Hasso said Wright didn’t want to discuss the case publicly.

“She’s satisfied with the settlement,” Hasso said. “She doesn’t have any comment at this time.”

Hasso said she believes the case is the first in Iowa where a sex discrimination claim was based on being a mother.

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