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A woman fired during her maternity leave is paid by her ex-employer

Ivy Ennals had a stressful pregnancy. Then, days before her 40th birthday, her baby girl arrived by emergency cesarean, setting Ennals up for a difficult healing process.

Maternity leave was crucial: First, 12 weeks under federal family and medical leave law, then an additional six weeks scheduled as bonding time with the baby under New Jersey’s family leave law. .

But when Ennals returned to the store in Vineland, NJ, where she worked as a manager, she found she was out of work.

Her job at the Gabe’s retail store had been laid off the previous month, she said. She was shocked – and, with a new baby and two older children at home, suddenly out of work.

Nearly four years later, Ennals will receive a large payout from her ex-employer in what amounts to a settlement of a civil rights lawsuit she filed after the August 2019 firing, the office announced this week. of the Attorney General of New Jersey.

“You never want this to happen to anyone else again when you go through something like this,” Ennals, 43, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Complaints of pregnancy or parental discrimination by workers are not uncommon. New Jersey is among 13 states that have enacted paid family and medical leave laws since 2013, many of which have come into effect in recent years or are expected to come into effect soon, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. A new one was signed Thursday in Minnesota and another is under consideration in Maine.

The leave is normally in addition to what is provided under federal family and medical leave law, allowing new parents to extend their time at home before returning to work. Laws provide benefits and protection, but when employers break the rules, it’s up to new parents to seek redress.

“These kinds of laws are very, very important and crucial to employee rights,” said David Koller, Ennals’ attorney, “but laws are only useful if people are asserting their rights – if people are brave enough, like Ivy, to do something about it.”

Bills that would provide paid family leave at the federal level have stalled in Congress, although some lawmakers have renewed their effort this year. Critics questioned the financial effects, the impact on employers and the purported benefits.

In 2021, President Biden’s proposal for a 12-week paid family leave program was eliminated from his sweeping spending agenda after opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.), who raised concerns about financing, effect on small business and potential for fraud.

Advocates have focused on state legislatures, pushing for paid vacation bills across the country. Minnesota on Thursday became the 14th state to enact paid family and medical leave as Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed a new bill into law. At a news conference, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (D) put a framed photo of her daughter as a baby on the lectern.

“This time is not optional. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a must if we really want to be the best state in the country to raise a family in,” she said. “And when you’re ready to come back, your job should still be there.”

In Ennals’ case, his former employer, Gabe’s, agreed to pay him $66,000 in compensation, along with $44,000 in attorneys’ fees and $3,500 to the state, for a total of $113,500. , the office of New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said in a press release. .

Gabe denied any violation of the law, according to the consent order in the case, and the agreement resolved the complaint. Gabe’s has also agreed to provide state policy training to employees who process leave requests.

“For reasons of confidentiality, legally, we cannot comment on this matter. Since the incident four years ago, we have made many substantial company-wide changes that are positively impacting our associates,” said Jeffry Bruce, Gabe’s Chief Human Resources Officer, in an email to the Washington Post.

Ennals, of Port Norris, NJ, said the job loss had a profound financial effect on his family. It took her several months to find a new job, and when she did, he paid less than she had earned at Gabe. She kept looking for a job until she found something “comfortable”, while her husband worked overtime.

“I was already stressed about this emergency operation with her, the healing time was already a bit long and the bills were getting a bit behind schedule,” Ennals recalls. “It just puts you in a bind.”

After contacting an attorney, she filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which investigates claims under the state’s furlough law. That complaint resulted in the consent agreement announced this week.

“It’s always gratifying to see when a state stands up for its laws and its workers and gets a deal like [this] one,” said Sherry Leiwant, co-chair of advocacy group A Better Balance, which pushes for policies that include paid vacation, paid sick leave and pregnancy accommodations. “It sends a message.”

Platkin, the attorney general, also announced a settlement resolving another complaint from a man who said he was fired by his employer after asking for leave before the birth of his child.

“New Jersey’s family leave law protects a parent’s right to take time off work to bond with their child without fear of losing their job,” Platkin said in a statement. “New Jersey employers need to know that we will not tolerate violations of this important law.”

Complaints like Ennals’ are common, said Koller and Leiwant, whose organization runs a hotline that takes calls from parents. Parents who are having trouble taking time off can contact an attorney or, often, can call a state hotline.

Losing a job when parental leave ends can push some people into poverty, Leiwant said, especially in cases where a family has already exhausted their savings to take time off work. Often the people who lose their jobs are hourly or low-wage workers.

Proponents of paid parental leave in states and in Congress say job protection needs to be included in these laws.

“It’s just as essential for the workers; in many ways it’s as important as the money,” Leiwant said. “The pressure on you, when you’ve just had a child, losing your job is just something women shouldn’t have to deal with, and that kind of stress is definitely a factor in this country’s poor record in maternal health. ”


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