A nonprofit group that aids homeless and low-income people in the Bayview-Hunters Point district of San Francisco was sued by a government agency today for allegedly discriminating against a female worker of Samoan ancestry.
The lawsuit against the United Council of Human Services was filed in federal court in San Francisco by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The suit alleges that Tanya Thompson, a Samoan-American counselor, was unfairly denied a promotion in April 2007, shortly before she left on maternity leave, and then unfairly denied her job back when she sought to return in June 2007.
Thompson was hired by the nonprofit in 2002 as a peer advisor and worked an overnight shift counseling walk-in clients at the group’s 24-hour Drop-In Center.
The lawsuit alleges she was denied a promotion to the post of peer advisor supervisor in favor of a less qualified African-American man in April 2007.
It charges that in June 2007, following a maternity leave approved by the organization, Thompson “made multiple attempts to be scheduled to be returned to work,” but was rebuffed and fired.
EEOC District Director Michael Baldonado said the agency’s investigation showed that Thompson was told that her job was eliminated because of funding cuts, but the agency found that the council had hired a non-Samoan male worker to replace her.
The lawsuit alleges both national origin discrimination and gender discrimination in violation of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. It seeks a court order ending alleged bias at the organization as well as financial compensation for Thompson.
Thompson said in a prepared statement, “I loved my job as a peer advisor helping people. After working there for five years, it was devastating to lose my job so suddenly.”
Council Chief Executive Officer Gwendolyn Westbrook vehemently denied that the organization engaged in discrimination.
Westbrook said the problem arose from an alleged failure by Thompson to notify the group in advance about when she wanted to return. Instead, “she just showed up,” Westbrook said.
“I am not prejudiced,” Westbrook said in a telephone interview.
The council has 42 employees and is supported with federal and city funds, Westbrook said.
It provides a variety of services to homeless and low-income people, including food, clothing, counseling, a resource center and life skills classes.
Baldonado said, “Our investigation found that Ms. Thompson faced comments such as ‘Every time I see you, you are pregnant.'”
He said, “Stigmatizing pregnant women of a particular ethnicity or race compounds the barriers to a level playing field.”