Mom Fired For Daughter's Pinkeye Infection
The story of Dena Lockwood of Chicago, age 39, generated a lot of buzz. Dena, a single mother working to support her two children, was let go from a job she had held for two years, only minutes after telling her boss that she had to stay home and care for her daughter, Lily, who was sick with pinkeye. According to an ABCNews.com report, Dena asked her manager why she was being fired from her sales position at Professional Neurological Services Ltd. and he claimed that things with Dena weren't working out.
Dena pressed her boss further, "I told him that he certainly couldn't fire me just because my daughter had pinkeye, and I got no response." The lack of a response from her boss confirmed Dena's worst thoughts: That she was being fired because she had children and had to take a day off of work to care for one of them. In Dena's mind it was clear as day: she was being discriminated against because she had children. What was a working single mother of two supposed to do next?
Dena Heads To Court
Upon her unjustified dismissal from work, Dena Lockwood went to the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR). According to the CCHR's website, "The Commission (CCHR) is charged with enforcing the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance and the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance. The Commission investigates complaints to determine whether discrimination may have occurred, and uses its enforcement powers to punish acts of discrimination. Under the City's Hate Crimes Law, the agency aids hate crime victims. CCHR also employs pro-active programs of education, intervention, and constituency building to discourage bigotry and bring people from different groups together."
Any person feeling that she has experienced discrimination in the city of Chicago, and who falls into one of the 14 protected classes, is eligible to file a complaint with the CCHR. Dena Lockwood was one of those people. The 14 protected classes are: race, sex, age, color, religion, disability, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, gender identity, source of income, and military discharge status.
Provided that the complaint is logged into the system, meaning filed by the person bringing the complaint, within 180 days of the when the incident occurred, the person filing the complaint is eligible to receive: distress damages, attorney fees and costs, punitive damages (in some cases), and out-of-pocket expenses. Additionally, the respondent, (person or company that is accused of said discrimination) can be forced to pay a fine to the city of Chicago, if they are found to be liable for discrimination of an individual in one of the 14 protected classes.
The Courts Speak Loud And Clear
After a long and intense litigation procedure, the courts of Chicago spoke loud and clear, ruling in Dena's favor to the tune of $215,000 in damages and about $100,000 in attorneys costs and fees.
Ruth Major, Lockwood's lawyer, said that she and Dena filed her complaint through a city agency because they thought they would receive a better outcome than if they filed the complaint in a federal court under the state's discrimination laws based on gender, because at the time " the employees at the company were mostly women."
Major went on to tell ABCNews.com that this case is important because, "this case does send a message that administrative agencies will address conduct by employers and award meaningful damages in areas that [federal law] cannot."
For Dena, this experience taught her two valuable lessons. One, that in hindsight she had been the victim of discrimination at her job long before her boss gave her the axe. After speaking with the Commission, Dena was reminded that during her initial interview with Professional Neurological Services, Ltd. the sales manager questioned her about her commitment to working long hours (more than 65+ per week) with children at home. Dena knows now that that question alone was a discrimination red flag, but she just didn't think of it at the time.
Secondly, this experience taught Dena to speak up when something is not right, and that going the local route, of dealing with a local agency bound by local laws, can be just as effective, if not more so, than filing in federal court.
For this one working single mother of two, taking the high road at the local level lead to big results that could be heard at the national level, altering the public to the fact that some good can come from bad.