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Teacher Aide Fired From Brooklyn Day Care for Being Pregnant, Lawsuit Says

By Gwynne Hogan | July 20, 2017 10:52am
 Irma Martinez was fired from her job for her pregnancy, according to a federal lawsuit. 
Irma Martinez was fired from her job for her pregnancy, according to a federal lawsuit. 
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EAST WILLIAMSBURG — A newly hired teacher aide was harassed by her supervisors at a day care and then fired for being pregnant, according a federal civil right lawsuit filed in Brooklyn.

Yariza Martinez, who worked at the nonprofit Stagg Street Center for Children at 77 Stagg St., said in the suit that she was told she'd be fired a day after asking her bosses about applying for pregnancy leave, a violation of federal civil rights laws that prevent discrimination based on gender or pregnancy.

Though her supervisors, Robert Camacho and Irma Varner, eventually backpedaled, allowing her to work up until when she gave birth in August 2016, they continued to harass her about her pregnancy and question how she would ever come back to work with a baby in tow, according to court papers filed in June.

Martinez, who'd been employed at the day care as a summer counselor in 2015, interviewed for a job there in May 2016, not mentioning she was five months pregnant, because she feared it would jeopardize her chances of landing the job, according to the lawsuit.

In mid-June 2016, several weeks after she'd started working, her concerns proved true when she brought up the subject of maternity leave, the suit said. She was due to give birth at the end of August.  

"I’m disappointed to hear this. If you had mentioned your pregnancy the day of your interview, I would have made a different decision," Varner told her, the lawsuit charges. "I need workers who can work.” 

Martinez replied that she'd been afraid she would be discriminated against, the lawsuit says.

“I understand, but I still need people to work," Varner said. 

The next day, she was fired because she had requested leave within the first few months of being hired, during her probationary period.

Martinez pleaded with Camacho and Varner to let her stay on until she gave birth, a request that was flatly denied by Camacho, who allegedly said, "There's no way."

"We gotta terminate you," he said, according to the lawsuit. "That’s what happens.”

Within a few days, after speaking with other board members and realizing her firing was illegal, the two supervisors reversed course and decided to keep her on, according to the lawsuit. But in the weeks that followed, Varner continued to bother Martinez about her pregnancy, saying she felt deceived and that she doubted Martinez would be able to work after she gave birth.

Martinez recorded some of the conversations, according to the lawsuit. 

"We felt that you deceived us because you didn’t mention your pregnancy. And you didn’t have to mention it, I understand that, you didn’t have to mention it but if I had known, I probably would not have even interviewed you, if I had known we was [sic] bringing on someone pregnant," Varner said, the lawsuit charges.

"When the baby comes, you’re still gonna have to be here, when it’s time for you to be at work, you need to be here. Cause that will cause another problem, and they’re gonna be watching.”

Martinez insisted she'd be able to work after she gave birth, but Varner pressed on. 

“Who’s gonna take the baby to the doctors, cause you know the baby needs to get injections, and checks, and treatments?" she wondered.

The lawsuit, which names Camacho, Varner and the Stagg Street Center for Children, asks for an unspecified an amount of money greater than $150,000.

Camacho, a board member at the day care and member of Bushwick's Community Board 4, defended his decision to let her go to DNAinfo New York.

"She requested some time off, but she didn't inform us why she wanted time off," he said. "She was on probation and therefore couldn't take leave."

He added that the day care center was facing budget cuts and had to lay off people, although Martinez was a new hire when she'd been told she was going to be fired in 2016. 

"They're cutting our services. We have to lay people off because our budget is being cut. She would have been laid off anyway," he said, adding he didn't know many of the specifics of what had happened. 

"That's why we're going out to court; we'll deal with it from there."

The director of the center declined to comment, and Varner couldn't be immediately reached for comment. Neither Martinez nor her attorney at Phillips & Associates could immediately be reached for comment.

Here's the lawsuit: