From her first ultrasound pictures revealing she would be having a new baby boy, Kellie Cross says she had a healthy, happy pregnancy, as she and her husband awaited their first child. Then, two weeks before her due date, she says her “whole world just came down on” her.
Cross worked for four years as a divorce lawyer for the law firm of Rosenfeld, Hafron, Shapiro and Farmer. She says she had a reputation for taking on tough assignments.
Then she was fired.
“I was the ‘pit bull’ and the ‘bulldog,’” Cross said, "and I said, just because I'm pregnant, doesn't mean I'm any less tenacious."
Cross is suing, claiming she was repeatedly promised she could take maternity leave, and then return to work either full-time or part-time, working from her home, if necessary.
"I fully expected throughout my pregnancy that I was going to be coming back after 12 weeks to a part-time position" Cross said. "That's the only discussion we had."
Early on, however, she says there were signs that things had changed at the law firm. For example, she says senior partner Howard Rosenfeld told her there'd be no pay raise because she was going on maternity leave soon.
"He said, 'You're one of the hardest working, if not the hardest working person in the office.’ And he's like, ‘if you weren't going to be taking maternity leave, of course I'd give you the raise," Cross said.
She says Rosenfeld also made frequent and unwelcome comments about her pregnancy.
"When he spoke with judges, clients, opposing counsels, other third parties, he frequently referred to me as quote unquote ‘the pregnant one,’" Cross said.
Two-weeks before her due date, she says she was given notice that she was being fired. That made her termination date July 11th, one day before she was supposed to give birth to her child. Cross believes it's clear to her she was fired because she was pregnant.
"I had a great track record. I devoted my, I devoted four years to that firm," she said. "I worked countless hours, and again, I really, I believe I had a great reputation that I had built for all that hard work."
Even though pregnancy discrimination has been illegal for almost 40 years, complaints like Cross' are on the rise.
Last year the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported more than 6,000complaints nationwide. A 10-year study of pregnancy discrimination complaints show the highest number are filed by women in the service industry, with Illinois ranking fourth among all states.
Sheribel Rothenberg, Cross' attorney, said "This is not rocket science. The law says you can't discriminate on the basis of pregnancy. I was really very surprised that a distinguished law firm could have behaved in a way that it did."
Attorneys for the law firm declined to talk on camera, but said by email, that Cross' allegations "are incorrect factually and without legal merit." They added that the firm "did not discriminate against Ms. Cross, nor does it discriminate against any of its employees."
The lawyers also said Cross' lawsuit is pending, so they can't comment further. Cross says that by speaking out, she's sending a message.
"I'm sitting here today, and I'm standing up for my rights, as well as all the other women that feel they have been discriminated against because of their pregnancy," Cross said.