A new lawsuit claims that hip, woman-led clothing company Nasty Gal is “a horrible place to work for professional women who become pregnant,” accusing the company of illegally firing four pregnant women. The suit, filed by ex-employee Aimee Concepcion, says Nasty Gal terminated her and three other women, as well as one man about to take paternity leave.
The lawsuit, filed on March 10 in Los Angeles Superior Court, says that Nasty Gal systematically and illegally terminates pregnant employees, without offering them the four months of unpaid leave guaranteed for new mothers under California law. If these allegations are true, the irony is pretty rich. Nasty Gal bills itself as a brand for “fashion-forward, free-thinking girls,” and in her memoir #GirlBoss, founder Sophia Amoruso positioned herself as a #businesslady #role #model for millennial #feminists.
According to the suit, in December of 2013, Concepcion began working as the sole employee in Nasty Gal’s newly-launched Home Goods section, a position in which she says she earned “stellar reviews” from her supervisor, Camilla Whitman. The suit says that Whitman wrote in a performance review that Concepcion was “a model of professional behavior,” adding, “She is starting a department from scratch, which is no easy feat, and she has risen to the challenge.” In early February, she moved from her home in Philadelphia to Los Angeles, where Nasty Gal is based.
Not long after, on February 24, Concepcion learned she was pregnant. The suit claims she notified Whitman in April of that year, who did not seem pleased: “Ms. Whitman, appearing shocked and not pleased upon finding out this joyous news, asked if Plaintiff intended on returning after taking maternity, to which Plaintiff answered she would come back after taking maternity leave.”
In meetings with her supervisors, Concepcion alleges that she was told the company didn’t need to provide her with maternity leave, since she would only have been employed for nine months on her due date. The suit says an HR rep told her she’d be given just six weeks off if she delivered vaginally and eight weeks if she had a C-section. After receiving that news, the suit says, Concepcion Gchatted a coworker, “I’m trying not to cry right now.”
The information that Nasty Gal allegedly provided to her was pretty incomplete. The California Family Rights Act gives 12 weeks of time off within a twelve-month period for childbirth, adoption, foster care placement, or if an employee has a serious health condition. But in order to be eligible for CFRA leave, an employee “must be either a full-time or part-time employee working in California, have more than 12 months (52 weeks) of service with the employer, [and] have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12-month period before the date the leave begins.”
However, California’s Pregnancy Discrimination Leave Law says that any employer who provides health insurance for its employees has to provide up to four months of pregnancy disability leave, and the 12-month, 1,250-hour rules don’t apply: “A woman who works for a covered employer is eligible for pregnancy disability leave regardless of the length of time she has worked for the employer. Further, an employee does not have to work full-time in order to be eligible.”
Besides guaranteeing four months of unpaid leave, California law stipulates that a company can transfer a person to an “alternative position” after they return from their time off. But that position can’t equal a demotion:
Although the alternative position need not have equivalent duties, it must have an equivalent rate of pay and benefits and the employee must be qualified for the position. Transfer to an alternative position may include altering an existing position to accommodate the employee’s need for intermittent leave or a reduced work schedule.
In June, the suit says, Nasty Gal approved hiring a temporary replacement for Concepcion. But in August, with little warning, she was told instead that the company was “reassessing their budgets” and she was being terminated, not for any performance-related reasons. (Nasty Gal went on to have two more rounds of layoffs by September 2014, and anonymous reviews on Glassdoor indicated that people were fairly pissed.)
Concepcion’s suit says the company tried to force her to sign a severance agreement waiving her right to sue them. At first, she alleges, they promised she’d continue to be paid through her due date and given healthcare coverage through December 2014, then said it was conditional upon her signing the agreement. Concepcion gave birth to her daughter in November, but says Nasty Gal never registered her for COBRA coverage, meaning she was uninsured.
Besides her, Concepcion alleges that in August 2014, during one of the bouts of layoffs, many of the people let go were either pregnant, on maternity leave, or about to take it. One of them, according to the complaint, supposedly found out she was being fired at 36 weeks pregnant, just before a planned baby shower her coworkers were throwing her. Another, Anne Coelen, was fired due to “restructuring” just before returning from maternity leave. The suit says Coelen was replaced by two male employees. The suit says Gilberto Murillo, who was scheduled to take paternity leave in October to be with his pregnant wife, was also terminated in August. A month after the August layoffs, Rosa Lieberberg, then twelve weeks pregnant, was also allegedly fired, although not because of “restructuring” — the complaint says she was accused of being part of “a mean girls club.”
Concepcion is requesting unspecified damages for pregnancy discrimination, breach of contract, and wrongful termination, among other things. We’ve contacted both her and Nasty Gal for comment and will update if they respond. The full complaint is below.
Amoruso stepped down as CEO in January of this year, staying on as “executive chairman.” According to her Twitter page, she’s due to get married next week. Should she decided to have children, one would hope she’s afforded a more generous leave plan than the one supposedly provided to her employees.
Update, 3:04 p.m.: A Nasty Gal spokesperson has provided Jezebel with the following statement:
“The accusations made in the lawsuits are false, defamatory and taken completely out of context. The layoffs in question were part of a larger restructuring of departments we completed over nine months ago. The lawsuits are frivolous and without merit.”
Update, June 11: This story has generated a veritable avalanche of tips from current and former Nasty Gal employees, which we’ll be exploring in a later story. Several of them specifically defended Camilla Whitman, Concepcion’s direct supervisor, saying the two were actually close friends, that she’d fought hard to keep her from being fired, and was devastated when Concepcion was let go.
“Camilla is being unfairly implicated in all of this and was in no way responsible for Aimee’s dismissal,” one wrote.
This article has been updated to remove the name of one of the pregnant employees who is not the plaintiff in this lawsuit.
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Amoruso, pictured in May 2014. Photo via Getty Images