Archive for Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Former Baker employee files discrimination suit

January 23, 2002

A Baldwin resident is suing Baker University in federal court for discrimination.

Leigh Anne Bathke is claiming her former employer, Baker, fired her a little more than a year ago because she was pregnant.

Brendan Donelon, Bathke's attorney, said the suit that was filed Jan. 7 in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., claims Baker not only discriminated against Bathke because she was pregnant, but also violated her rights protected under the Family of Medical Leave Act.

"The lawsuit kind of speaks for itself," Donelon said.

Baker officials deny the charges.

"We think the university is right in what occurred," Bill McCollum, vice president for university relations, said. "That's our position."

Janet McManus, director of human resources, said Baker was justified in its actions.

"Baker is standing firm on its decision," McManus said. "We are fully prepared to defend our actions."

Bathke declined to comment on the case, but gave her version of events in the lawsuit.

On Dec. 2, 1999, she began working for the university's public relations office. She received her first job evaluation March 2000 in which supervisors gave her a "satisfactory and commendable" performance.

A month later, during a university trip, she said her supervisor, university spokesman John Fuller, asked her whether she was planning to have children.

Bathke said Fuller also said at that time he hated maternity leave.

McManus said she didn't believe Fuller would say anything to that affect.

"I find it very hard to believe he made those comments," she said.

A month after the conversation, Bathke learned she was pregnant. A month after that, in June 2000, she said she received her second job review, this time a "satisfactory to marginal" performance.

In October 2000, after being re-evaluated by Fuller, Bathke said she received a written reprimand regarding her job performance.

After being advised by her doctor, Bathke took a week of from work in late November 2000 to recover from the effects stress was having on her pregnancy.

During her week off of work for sick leave, on Nov. 30, 2000, one day before her one-year anniversary with Baker, when she would have been eligible for pregnancy leave under federal law she was fired because of poor job performance.

Donelon said one reason Bathke felt she had been discriminated against was the sudden change in job performance evaluations.

"What was suspicious, was that she received a good review," he said. "Then it just kind of took a 180. John Fuller's performance reviews made a significant turn around and became negative.

"That's just suspicious," he said. "How can a good employee all of the sudden become a poor employee?"

Another thing that made both Bathke and Donelon suspicious, he said, was the timing of her termination.

"During the week, on that Thursday, she got called into the office," he said. "On that Friday, she would have been there a year.

"But why call her in in the middle of the week. She would have been back to work on Monday," Donelon said. "We're under the impression they did that to dodge the bullet and get rid of her before that one-year date."

McManus said Bathke is not the first employee at Baker to become pregnant. She said there have been many women in the past that have become pregnant, taken maternity leave, and returned to their jobs at the university.

"Baker values its employees," she said. "It's really our hope our employees feel that they're treated fairly."

Both McCollum and McManus said they couldn't comment further on the case.

Baker's attorney, Toni Blackwood, could not be reached for comment.

In May, Bathke filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On Nov. 5, the agency issued a ruling stating Bathke had the right to sue.

No hearings have been scheduled.

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