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October 04, 2017

Feds: South Jersey real estate firm fired pregnant employees

A New Jersey real estate investment firm allegedly fired several employees because of their pregnancies. Further, a supervisor at the company went as far as to tell a pregnant employee that women "get stupid" when they're expecting, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The federal suit, filed Sept. 29 in U.S. District Court in Camden, states that Friedman Realty Group, Inc. dismissed at least three employees based on their pregnancies, a violation of federal law, officials said.

One of them, Brianna Mazzella, worked as a leasing agent at the company's Delaware County office in Prospect Park, the commission said. In March 2013, Mazzella told the regional property manager that she was pregnant, according to a press release.

The commission claims that the property manager made a number of disparaging comments about her pregnancy. Along with declaring women "get stupid" during pregnancy, the manager also told Mazzella, "I would never have kids, it's gross," the commission claimed.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the manager told Mazzella "pregnancy makes you retarded."

The commission claims that after Mazella was given unrealistic deadlines and goals after informing her manager of her pregnancy. She was also scrutinized more closely until Friedman ultimately fired Mazzella in August 2013, allegedly because of her pregnancy, the commission said.

The company, which is based in Camden County and owns and manages apartment communities, shopping centers and office buildings, is also accused of firing an apartment cleaner who had been with the company for nearly three years. The woman told the company's vice president about her pregnancy three days before her firing, the commission alleged.

The plaintiff also alleged that in April of this year, Friedman terminated a leasing consultant at its office in Somers Point. The firing allegedly came three months after the employee told the vice president and other managers of her pregnancy.

Friedman Vice President David Friedman told the Inquirer that the company deeply values "fairness, diversity and inclusion" and "takes seriously any claims of discrimination of any kind." 

But he did say the company did nothing improper and "did not terminate any of these women for the reason advanced in the complaint," the newspaper reported.

The commission is seeking injunctive relief as well as back pay and damages on behalf of Mazzella and other former employees involved in the suit, but the commission did not specify how much money it wants.

"These women were doing a good job, but Friedman fired them when they needed their salaries the most – as they were preparing to support a growing family," Debra M. Lawrence, a regional attorney with the commission's Philadelphia District Office, said in a statement. "That's unjust and against federal law."

More on the suit can be found here.