·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Pregnancy Discrimination Suit Against UCLA May Proceed, Judge Rules

— January 27, 2022

Earlier this week, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis A. Kin ruled that a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against UCLA can proceed to trial.

Image of Los Angeles County Courthouse
Los Angeles County Courthouse; image courtesy of Spacemountainmike via Wikimedia Commons,

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis A. Kin ruled earlier this week that a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by a former UCLA assistant dean can proceed to trial. The suit was filed by Margaret Purnell back in 2020. In her complaint, Purnell alleged she was “fired in 2019 for getting pregnant and taking maternity leave.”

In his ruling, Kin said, “can proceed with her causes of action for pregnancy discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and failure to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.” He added that “Assistant Vice Provost Sam Bersola allegedly compared caring for a sick child to looking after a sick dog,” and wrote:

“A reasonable juror could find that Bersola trivializes childcare responsibilities.”

So what happened, exactly? Well, according to the suit, Bersola made “biased comments to Purnell due to her pregnancy, questioning her need to miss some events that were scheduled close to her delivery date and asking her, ‘Aren’t you worried that your team will find it difficult to cover those events without you?’” On top of that, Bersola questioned “Purnell’s desire to leave one day near lunchtime due to a pregnancy-related illness and asked her to wait until after a 4 p.m. meeting,” according to court documents related to Kin’s ruling.

Purnell began working at UC Riverside in 2011 and transferred to UCLA for an assistant dean position in 2018. In January 2019, she informed her manager that she was pregnant, and that “her baby was due at the end of May of that year and that her doctors told her she had a high-risk pregnancy.” In March, she fell ill with a pregnancy-related illness and left work early. However, her supervisors told her she would have to reschedule her meetings. The very same month, her supervisor, “aware the plaintiff had a risky pregnancy, assigned her work that required 12 straight days of travel.” When she told her boss she would need a day off after all that travel “due to her pregnancy and medical condition, he replied that she could ask for it, but it would ‘not be automatically approved.’”

From there, things only got worse. Later, she was summoned to a meeting with her supervisor and an HR representative. During the meeting, her supervisor “began attacking her performance, saying that it was below average,” according to the suit. The supervisor also allegedly accused her of taking too much time off work. 

Then, during a San Francisco trip in 2019 for training, she was informed that she was “being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.” When she contacted her HR department later that month to work out details of her maternity leave, she was told “they could not help her.” As a result, she “went on pregnancy disability leave and UCLA offered to let her resign, indicating that she would otherwise be fired,” according to the suit. She was officially fired in October 2019 after giving birth in May 2019. 


Judge Says Plaintiff Can Proceed With Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Former UCLA Assistant Dean Alleges Pregnancy Discrimination

Join the conversation!