This Bad Boss Discouraged Pregnancy — and Fired Employees Who Were Expecting
Over a period of six months, Bruce Paswall learned that three of his employees were pregnant.
The New York chiropractor was not happy for them.
“Again?” said Dr. Paswall, according to court testimony, upon hearing of the third case — just months after he had fired the first two pregnant women.
And so Melissa Rodriguez became the third victim — called out for her weight gain, given extra work, paid for fewer hours. Dr. Paswall’s office manager even bullied her into an unneeded ultrasound and had the result sent directly to him. Ultimately she too was fired; afterward, she suffered from severe anxiety and her hair started falling out.
“The happiest moment in my life — and they took that away from me,” an emotional Ms. Rodriguez told the court.
Bruce Paswall, owner of G.E.B. Medical Management, Inc. in Manhattan, is our latest “Bad Boss of the Month.”
After a month-long trial, a state jury in Bronx, N.Y., found that Dr. Paswall and G.E.B. had discriminated against all three of the former employees and awarded them a total of more than $6 million in damages. The case is currently in post-trial motions.
Why would a healthcare professional be hostile to pregnancy? According to testimony, the trouble started when another former employee returned to work after having a baby, asked for a raise, and then quit without notice. This infuriated Dr. Paswall, and he wanted to avoid a repeat.
When hiring Marlena Santana as a new administrative assistant, for instance, Dr. Paswall asked about her reproductive plans and advised her not to have children, the jury heard. When she said she probably wouldn’t have kids until her 30s, Dr. Paswall replied, “Smart girl.”
Just a few months later, however, Ms. Santana found herself pregnant. After Dr. Paswall heard the news he stopped talking to her, she testified. Instead of working at the front desk, as before, her hours were sliced and she was ordered to spend most of her day filing in a hot, tight, windowless back room where employees were often bitten by dust mites or mosquitos. Buffeted by bad morning sickness, she would return from throwing up only to be told “it’s not that serious.”
Meanwhile, Yasminda Davis — the second plaintiff — had been hired shortly after Ms. Santana to work as a medical biller. Like Ms. Santana, she said Dr. Paswall quizzed her about marriage and children during the interview process. And when Ms. Santana’s pregnancy became known in the office, Dr. Paswall warned Ms. Davis that she “better not get pregnant like that.”
But Ms. Davis was already feeling unwell; an office gossip speculated about her being pregnant. After she took a couple of sick days, she noticed a growing chill in the office environment: Dr. Paswall stopped being friendly and she felt “watched.”
Things came to a head when Ms. Davis told the office manager she was seeing a doctor about a possible pregnancy: He said “Oh boy” and “stormed off” to Dr. Paswall’s office, she testified. The following week, after her pregnancy was verified, Dr. Paswall told Ms. Davis “it wasn’t working out” and fired her. The very next day, Ms. Santana was fired in a similar way.
Both pregnant women were devastated. Ms. Santana sank into depression; her relationship suffered, and she stopped seeing friends. “I didn’t even want to get out of bed,” she said.
Ms. Davis also had escalating tensions at home, plus severe money troubles: With her husband and daughter, she was evicted from her apartment and — after her son was born and her husband became violent — ended up living in a shelter for battered women.
Finally there was Melissa Rodriguez, the third plaintiff, who was hired as an administrative assistant immediately after Ms. Santana and Ms. Davis were fired. This time Dr. Paswall didn’t ask Ms. Rodriguez about her family plans during the hiring process — but as it happened, she was already six or seven weeks pregnant.
When she began showing a few months later, Ms. Rodriguez testified, Dr. Paswall commented on her large belly and his office manager accused her of having worn a girdle to disguise her pregnancy. He forced her to take an ultrasound to prove she had not been lying “about how far along I was in my pregnancy.”
She wasn’t lying — yet after a few months in which her workload was increased, her pay was cut, and her appearance was criticized, she also was fired.
Ms. Rodriguez told the jury that she tried to hide the firing from her husband, a traumatized veteran, because she felt “ashamed, embarrassed, angry. And I should have been happy. … it was robbed from me.”
She tried to look for work while visibly pregnant, but, she said, “Nobody would hire me.” One month after the baby was born, she and her husband separated. They got back together and the following year she became pregnant again. But this time, she testified, instead of being happy she found herself “scared.”
“I kept on having flashbacks of what happened to me at” Dr. Paswall’s office, she told jurors. “Scared that I would be going through the same thing … the crying, the losing my job, not being able to afford things for my kids, looking for a crib. I don’t want to go through that again.”
With regret, Ms. Rodriguez terminated her pregnancy.
The jury awarded more than $1.5 million in compensation to each of the three women fired by Dr. Paswall, and ordered a further total of $1.5 million in punitive damages.
» Ms. Rodriguez’s testimony about the aftermath of her firing
The Employment Law Group® law firm was not involved in Santana v. G.E.B. Medical Management, Inc. We select “Bad Boss” cases to illustrate the continuing relevance of employee protection laws for our newsletter’s audience, which includes attorneys and former TELG clients.