Discrimination Lawsuit Against UMass Goes Forward

A federal judge in Springfield has allowed a discrimination lawsuit against UMass-Amherst to go forward.

The plaintiff, Marcie Gallo-O’Connell, says she applied in 2010 to be an assistant manager in food retail services — a position she was assigned on an interim basis. But she claims she was turned down after her supervisor asked repeatedly about her ability to take care of her children while doing the job. Gallo-O’Connell says a less qualified woman without children was hired instead.  So she is suing for back-pay and asking the university to prohibit discrimination based on caregiving responsibilities.

“Mothers need to work,” says plaintiff’s lawyer Rebecca Pontikes, “and they shouldn’t be foreclosed from that because the people making the decisions are assuming they’ll put their children before the workplace so they won’t do as good of a job as somebody who does not have children.”

The university moved to throw out the case, writing in court documents that the hiring committee chose the person they felt was best for the job, with no regard for parental status.  But Judge Richard Stearns this week  ruled that Gallo-O’Connel’s claim can go forward. However, he dismissed portions of the lawsuit charging a broader pattern of discrimination at UMass. The university declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Updated 6:26am May 30, 2014 to reflect University’s argument in court documents.