2 companies agree to pay $95,000 in bias suit

Job offer was rescinded 5 hours after applicant told of her pregnancy

January 16, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Two Bethesda companies have agreed to pay $95,000 to settle a federal discrimination suit by a woman who claimed that a job offer was rescinded hours after she told them she was pregnant.

The cash settlement by Downey Communications Inc. and Marketing and Information Management Inc. came a week before the trial was scheduled to start and ended 4 1/2 years of "hostility and retaliation" toward Margaret Walters, said one of her lawyers.

According to court documents, Walters was offered a job in writing as manager of client services in June 1994 by the companies, which are owned by Edward and Loretta Downey of Potomac.

The companies, with about 70 employees, convert supermarket scanner data into marketing reports.

When Walters called back several days later to accept the job, she told a company executive she was four months pregnant.

Five hours later, the executive called her back to say the company had changed the scope of the job, and the offer was rescinded.

Walters, who lives in Arlington, Va., filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations, which found her claim had merit.

The Downeys' lawyers wrote threatening letters to her and threatened to sue her if she did not withdraw her complaint, said John Freedman, one of Walters' lawyers. When she refused, the companies filed suit in Virginia state court.

In May 1997, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against the two companies in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

"We were convinced that the only thing that could have changed their minds was her pregnancy," said EEOC lawyer Dana Hutter. "The unique quality to this case was the hostility and retaliation displayed by these companies. This has been nothing short of a nightmare for Margaret Walters."

In a deposition, Harvey Richmond, the company official who rescinded the job offer, said he was following orders.

Loretta Downey felt she had been "deceived" by Walters, Richmond said.

An employee at the companies said this week that the Downeys are away until next month and that an authorized spokeswoman, Julia Greer, was not available.

In addition to the cash settlement, the two companies will be monitored by the EEOC for compliance with anti-discrimination laws. They also agreed to drop the Virginia suit.

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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