A Jewish woman who was 19 weeks pregnant at her wedding is suing a Manhattan congregation. Alana Shultz and her attorneys claim that leaders of the Congregation Shearith Israel violated her civil rights under Title VII when they ended her position as program director after 11 years because she was pregnant. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
Shultz was terminated unexpectedly on July 12, 2015, one day after returning home from her honeymoon. The firing, which was scheduled to take effect August 15, occurred during a meeting with synagogue officials who indicated the woman’s position was being eliminated due to what they called “internal restructuring”. There was no longer a need for the program director spot.
Not believing her position was simply being eliminated due to a new business plan, however, Shultz hired an attorney. Learning of her decision to seek counsel, ten days before her dismissal, the synagogue leaders then tried to rescind their decision. Because of this, when originally taken to court, a lower court judge said Shultz hadn’t suffered “an adverse employment action” and her rights had not been violated. But, the case was later taken to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the appeals court disagreed, upholding Shultz’s Title VII claim and finding instead that the initial intent to terminate Shultz constituted in itself as adverse employment action.
Shultz “had ample time to experience the dislocation of losing her employment at a particularly vulnerable time, undertake the effort of retaining counsel, and inform the congregation that she was going to file suit,” Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote in the judgment. The court said this was different from receiving a letter in her file indicating her employer had issued her a behavioral warning or suggesting counseling. The woman had undergone turmoil in being suddenly discharged. Furthermore, if the client was correct in assuming the purpose of the termination was due simply to the fact she was pregnant, her civil rights had indeed been violated and would have been if she had received only a reprimand for this as well.
“No female employee should have to fear termination because she becomes pregnant,” Jeanne Christensen, Shultz’s attorney, said. “We look forward to vindicating our client’s rights.”
The congregation Shultz belonged to is well known as the oldest of its kind in the United States. Founded in 1654, Congregation Shearith Israel is also known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and is located on West 70th Street and Central Park West in New York. Very much involved with her synagogue, Shultz and her husband met during a charity event and held a Sabbath dinner just prior to their wedding at the synagogue.
Shultz sought counsel from Wigdor LLP, the same law firm that has filed gender bias, racial bias and retaliation lawsuits on behalf of more than twenty past and present employees of Fox News.