More than a decade ago, a female employee claimed that Stephen Bannon, now serving as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign CEO, disparaged her pregnancy, ignored her maternity leave, and then fired her while she was still out of the office, the New York Post first reported.
Julia Panely-Pacetti, the woman who filed the 2005 lawsuit, worked as the head of corporate communications and marketing for American Vantage Companies, where she reported directly to now-Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon, according to the complaint.
In the complaint, Panely-Pacetti says she was a new mother and also suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS). She took maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which guarantees covered workers 12 weeks of unpaid time off for a new child or serious illness. However, she claims she was made to keep working while on leave with her new baby and was later fired.
In 2004, the complaint says, Bannon told Panely-Pacetti and other employees that he intended to promote her and give her increased responsibilities. It also claims she “performed her job well and received high praise and increased responsibility” up until June 2004. She said she frequently worked 12-hour days and on the weekends.
But Bannon “treated her differently” after she notified him of her pregnancy in late April 2004, the complaint says. It alleges that he failed to respond to her requests for maternity leave in August 2004, became less available to her for work-related matters, and “spoke disparagingly of her pregnancy.”
The complaint says she started working from home late in July 2004 due to a pregnancy-related health issue, but that she kept performing the same duties. She gave birth on August 15 and started her maternity leave. But rather than hire a temporary replacement for her, she claimed, her employer regularly contacted her for work-related tasks and still asked her to do her job from home.
When she asked Bannon to intervene and tell employees to respect her maternity leave, she charges that he didn’t answer and instead told her to respond to work requests more quickly.
Then in October of that year, the complaint says she experienced a flare-up in her MS symptoms, so she filed for short-term disability insurance. A day after she notified her employer, she alleged, she was told she was being fired. In the complaint, she alleges she was laid off because of her gender, disability, and because she was a mother.
After initially denying her allegations, American Vantage Companies agreed to private mediation in 2006 and the case was dismissed a month later without further details.
At any company with 50 or more employees, it’s against the rules of the FMLA to fire someone who has taken leave. But discrimination against pregnant employees, even when employers violate established laws, are relatively common. Complaints of pregnancy discrimination filed with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission jumped 65 percent between 1992 and 2007, rising faster than the influx of women into the labor force. Women working as Walmart cashiers and investment bankers alike have alleged that they were fired for being pregnant.
Even staying on the job can be complicated. An estimated quarter million women each year are denied their requests for simple accommodations, like stools to sit on or more frequent bathroom breaks, so they can safely continue working during their pregnancies.
Bannon’s boss, Donald Trump, has not shown himself to be very sympathetic to pregnant employees in the past. In a 2004 interview, he said that pregnancy is “certainly an inconvenience for a business.” Then when asked about the issue of paid family leave last year, he responded, “I think we have to keep our country very competitive, so you have to be careful of it.”
Since Trump announced that he was hiring Bannon to a leadership role in his campaign, other details of legal troubles have surfaced. In 1996, his then-wife filed a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence and battery, claiming that he pulled her neck and wrist during an argument about their finances and smashed the telephone when she tried to call the police. Then in a court filing in 2007 in the middle of their divorce battle, his ex-wife claimed that he made a series of anti-Semitic remarks while touring schools for his daughters.