A special education aide has sued the Richmond-Burton School District 157 board, alleging she was not recalled from COVID-19 furlough when in-person classes resumed for the 2020-2021 school year - and that she was later fired - due to her pregnancy.
The lawsuit, filed on Aug. 7, 2023, seeks both compensation and punitive damages “in excess of $100,000″ as well as lost pension benefits and attorneys fees.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff, Susan Wright, told principal Michael Baird in May 2020 that her due date was in October 2020. That was about the time the 600-student high school district returned to in-person instruction with a hybrid schedule.
The suit alleges that every other special education aide furloughed for COVID-19, including those with less seniority than Wright, were recalled by January 2021 - except for Wright.
It also alleges that the district hired and trained the plaintiff’s mother - who had worked in the district as a media technician previously - as a special education aid instead of her.
“No woman should have to concern herself with the prospect that pregnancy, pregnancy-related complications, or maternity leave might serve as the basis for termination from employment,” her attorney, Pat Walsh, said.
According to the Illinois Human Rights Act, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.”
“The School District denies any wrongdoing alleged in the complaint,” Superintendent Tom Lind wrote in an email to the Northwest Herald, adding the district would not comment further “due to pending litigation at this time.”
Wright was later dismissed by school board action, effective May 26, 2021, according to the suit. Wright was then rehired in May 2022 after mediation with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, to which she had previously made a complaint.
Once Wright was rehired, she was ordered to report directly to Baird when she returned to the school, the complaint states.
Wright is suing the district now as she recently received a “right to sue” letter from the IDHR, which then gives a plaintiff 90 days to file a civil action in court, according to the IDHR website.
“Any woman who is brave enough to stand up for her right to be free of pregnancy discrimination sends a powerful message to employers everywhere that a woman’s needs during pregnancy and after delivery must be respected,” Walsh said.
The next court date for the case is set for Nov. 6 at the McHenry County Courthouse.