Jury awards $849,000 to former Wayne State student who says pregnancy led to discrimination
Tina Varlesi says she was called 'beached whale' by Salvation Army staff
A jury on Thursday awarded $849,000 to a former Wayne State University student who said she was kicked out of the school's social work program after a supervisor learned she was pregnant.
Tina Varlesi, 34, claimed she was a victim of discrimination. She said she got a poor review during a 2008 internship at The Salvation Army because her pregnancy as an unmarried woman offended her female supervisor there. As a result of that review, she was kicked out of Wayne State's School of Social Work, where she was pursuing a master's degree.
After a 10-day trial, a federal jury ruled in Varlesi's favor in her lawsuit against Wayne State officials.
"I feel very vindicated and that a wrong was turned into a right. Justice was served," Varlesi said.
In court filings, Wayne State insisted that the decision to scratch Varlesi from the social work program was based on performance, not bias.
"We are disappointed with the verdict and are reviewing our options for an appeal," spokesman Matt Lockwood said.
Varlesi said she was told to wear loose-fitting clothes while working at a Salvation Army rehabilitation center for men in Romulus. She said she was called a "beached whale" by Salvation Army staff and was told to stop rubbing her stomach because it was causing men to become sexually stimulated.
"We told the jury it was clear Wayne was lashing out at her because she dared to challenge what was going on in the field," attorney Deborah Gordon said.