WATERLOO — A Waterloo woman who was fired hours before starting maternity leave has won $656,000 in punitive damages from Party City Corp.
A Black Hawk County jury also awarded Kellie Norris $40,000 in back pay and another $40,000 for emotional distress following a November trial.
Norris started working for the Factory Card and Party Outlet store in Waterloo — now called Party City — as general manager in 2003, and during her time earned awards for sales performance.
After Norris informed her district manager in 2010 that she was pregnant, the district manager refused to grant requests for time off because of severe morning sickness and doctor appointments and disciplined her for being absent.
Norris’ lawsuit also states she was disciplined for not doing tasks she was told not to do because of her pregnancy and for not following policies she was told to ignore during the pregnancy.
The district manager yelled at Norris for requesting short-term disability and maternity leave in November 2010, and four days later fired her when she was two hours away from starting her leave, according to the suit.
Norris’ attorneys filed the lawsuit in Black Hawk County District Court in 2015. She was initially represented by attorneys Heather Prendergast of Waterloo and Glenn Johnson of Cedar Rapids.
The company claimed Norris was fired for legitimate performance-based criteria and failing to comply with company policies. The company’s human resources department was aware of the pregnancy and reviewed the disciplinary actions before approving of the decision to fire her, according to the defense.
Following the verdict, attorneys for Party City have asked the court to dismiss the punitive damage award, arguing that the company has policy prohibiting discrimination, and the district manager attended training on the policy and because no one had complained to the company about the district manager’s conduct.