PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (CN) - The director of a holistic wellness center fired a pregnant employee after telling her, "I can't quit smoking. I don't want to be sued if your baby comes out with birth defects," the woman claims in Federal Court.
Tammy Fox sued Synergy Wellness Center and Steven E. Nelson in Riverside County Court. She accuses the Palm Desert center and its boss of sexual discrimination and harassment and wrongful termination.
Fox says she was 5 months pregnant when Nelson hired her to be his office manager, though apparently he was oblivious to her pregnancy.
When she told him a few weeks into her employment about her pregnancy, Nelson responded: "I didn't know you were pregnant. I would have never hired you had I known," according to the complaint.
Fox claims she told Nelson that it is illegal to not hire a woman based on her pregnancy, to which he responded: "What's illegal is the fact that you didn't tell me that you are pregnant."
Nelson, who smoked in the office, called Fox into his office to sign a document stating that she had not disclosed her pregnancy at her employment interview, that she would stay away from the office's smoking area, and that she had received a warning, Fox says in the complaint.
She says Nelson began treating her in an aggressive manner after learning about her pregnancy.
"On one occasion, Fox asked Nelson to smoke outside. Nelson answered, 'I fucking own this office. I can smoke wherever I want,'" she says in the complaint.
Nelson went so far as to curse at Fox in front of patients, prompting more than one patient to be concerned for Fox's welfare, she says in the complaint.
Less than two months into her employment, Nelson called Fox into his office and told her: "I have to let you go because you are pregnant, and I can't quit smoking. I don't want to be sued if your baby comes out with birth defects," according to the lawsuit.
Fox says Nelson gave her a final paycheck and she left the office.
Synergy touts itself on its website as a "clinic dedicated to providing our patients with quality naturopathic medical care in a professional team environment" that can help patients improve their health "using innovative and proven holistic ideas and techniques."
According to the Synergy website, Nelson has been featured in more than 30 medical, nutritional and commercial publications and has 30 years experience in pharmacology and more than 15 years experience as a naturopathic physician.
Fox's complaint also alleges various labor violations, including failure to pay minimum wage and failure to provide rest and meal breaks.
She seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
She is represented by Sonya D. Paskil with the Bononi Law Group.