Melrose Mom: State Laid Me Off Days After Baby’s Funeral

By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV

MELROSE (CBS) – “I feel that I was not able to grieve properly. In the midst of it I was struck with one more loss, a loss of a job, a loss of income and a loss of health insurance,” says Kristen Sullivan.

Sullivan says tremendous loss has ripped at the core of her family and in this discrimination claim she says her former employer, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education is partially to blame.

WBZ-TV’s Kathy Curran reports

Sullivan had been granted family leave by the state and the feds for the birth of her daughter, Conleigh Rose in August 2009.

Tragically, Conleigh died within days of being born. Still, Sullivan says, “I am blessed to have had her even for a short time.”

Less than one week after her baby’s funeral Sullivan says she received a call, followed up by a letter, saying her job working in human resources for the department was being eliminated.

“Verbally over the phone they said budgetary reasons. I then said ‘has anyone else been impacted’ and they said ‘not at this time.’ And to date, I’m still the only one laid off.”

The family’s house went into foreclosure and they’re still struggling to get by. According to the claim, before Sullivan, another woman was laid off four months after caring for her ailing mother-in-law while on family leave, and there have been three new hires in high paid positions since.

Sullivan says, “There’s a reason why there’s a law to protect from circumstances like this. I don’t want women or families to be afraid they’re going to lose their job if they have a child, if they go out on leave, if they get sick or care for someone who’s sick. That’s not the purpose of the law.”

A discrimination claim has been filed against the state and a civil suit is expected to be filed within a few weeks. A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education says they don’t comment on personnel issues.

  • Terese Bruzzese

    Outrageous! The Department of Higher Education should be ashamed of themselves!

  • sharon p

    What a courageous woman Kristen is – speaking out about the inexcusable act from the State Department. that other women do not suffer the same injustice. Thank you Kristen.

  • karen

    a state agency. bet there’s a few people there not on merit, but patronage jobs who were spared being cut. what an outrage! the state offers the sun, moon and stars to companies (to say notihing of tax advantages), then the fidelitys and other big players say “see ya, don’t wanna be with ya,” and laugh all the way to the bank. meanwhile honest working, family folks like the sulllivans get the door.good luck to kristen and her family in court. my heart grieves for the loss of conleigh. justice for the people.

  • branch

    i lost my job also while i was on leave and they hired and rehired works who had quit, but wouldn’t take me back in fact black balled my work history for 3 years, just because the boss was mad at me, thats the only reason i can come up with cus i had work there for 5 years with no complaints

    • dc

      We are sadened that the Sullivan’s have gone through such a difficult time. It is amazing that situations like this are still able to occur .

  • Sarah Mitchell Malaquias

    I got “laid off” from my job 2 months before the birth of my son. They said it was for business reasons, yet I had not had any problems with my employer until I disclosed my pregnancy…

  • Kristen

    I am so proud of Kristin. I myself had to utilize FMLA during the past two years in order to care for my Mom who lost her battle with metastatic breast cancer this past December. While my family and I are still devastated over the loss of our Mom; I can’t even imagine losing my job on top of the grief and stress of her death. No one should ever have to fear that their job will be in jeopardy if they need to use FMLA. THAT IS THE WHOLE REASON THIS LAW WAS PASSED!!! This country needs to respect families and the needs of employees to care for themselves and their families. Our loved ones come first and we should not be penalized for that. It is CRUEL and ILLEGAL to eliminate someone’s job while they are out on FMLA! Where is the compassion? Have we lost the ability to genuinely care for our fellow man?
    My heart goes out to the Sullivan family. The loss of their beautiful daughter, Conleigh, is the worst pain any parent can go through. Plus adding the loss of income and the real fear of losing their home. The stress is incomprehensible. I commend Kristin for having the courage to step forward in the midst of all of her personal tragedy to stand up for every person out there who has used or will use their FMLA. My hope is that her struggle will be a wake up call for this state and for all employers.
    God Bless you and your family,Kristin. Conleigh and Pat are sending you strength and love. Love you!

  • Tracey Jeffries

    This is more common than you know, than we all know. I was also laid off while out on FMLA for the birth of my daughter.

    My heart goes out to the Sullivan family and I hope you succeed with this!

    • caint Getright

      So Right,this is more common,people are scared to speak up for fear of their Jobs,Their is a company in Woburn MA that treat certain people different because of their Race or Lack of affiliation with certain people.

      Because of this economy ,people are more likel;y to adjust to the abuse rather than risk Job Lost or Retaliation

  • Lynn S

    Thank you Kristin for having the courage to speak out against such injustice, Your so brave .! Keep fighting! You will win. God Bless your beautiful family!

  • b

    kristin all power to you i understand ive been on fmla ive been harrased and bulleyed and not paid even though i have time to use under fmla . and i work for the state of mass i spend more time to protect my self then i do have a clear mind and to concentrate on job that needs to be down.

  • Mary

    Good for you for going on TV to expose this injustice. I’m so sorry for your loss and the struggles you have gone through because of these poor decisions. I’m not sure what the benefit is of the FMLA is since so many have been let go while on it – Including. Could someone please tell me what the benefit is supposed to be?

  • caint Getright

    Sorry for your Loss(s) It is about time someone goes public with this injustice,Bullies in the workplace is real and it does not feel good,go ahead,i pray that Justice prevails.

  • Dr k

    State is wrong and changes need to be made especially when the state has so many jobs that are irrelevant. They should keep people that perform and get those others out so a budget with meaning meaning prevails

  • norene

    I am outraged by this and I thank the newsperson who aired it. Having once worked with the State Department there are employees there who Take Advantage of their jobs, here is a woman on leave because she lost her 3 day old Child…. I think Mr. Freeland should think about what he has done to the Women in not only his Department but within the Employment of the State. Are men fired or let go or demoted because they had the loss of a parent and took their bereavement time off??? Something we ALL need to think about…I am sorry for your loss and on behalf of all who have been Bullied by our Employer… Thank You Kristin …..

  • Charlene

    This is such a shameful situation! How brave you are Kristen to stand up for yourself and the others who have suffered such an injustice! It seems that woman must constantly fight for what is right! I’m sure you would shun being described as a ‘woman’s rights advocate’, but my dear that is what you are. I am so sorry for your loss of dear Conleigh, a heartbreak no Mother should endure. May the love of your family bring peace to your heart and the strength to continue this courageous fight. Stay strong……

  • Denise

    These situations make me sick! But I’m not surprised by it. The State believes it can do whatever it wants – whenever it wants. I’m thinking she was a threat to her boss – maybe he/she had to let her go to somehow save his/her own job. Unfortunately there is no LOYALTY anymore.

    No parents should have to bury their child and for anyone to take advantage of them during this type of situation is DISGUSTING!

    Kristen you are strong and you will survive – someone will see your story and get you back to work! I’m sorry for your loss!

  • Buddy

    Unfortunately Kristen your an employee at will. You basically can be fired at anytime for no reason. Period. Read the laws of the Commonwealth regarding an employee at will?

    You have no contract, you are not part of a collective bargaining agreement, this means your employment at will can be terminated at any time. Look at the most recent Supreme Court ruling regarding mothers on FMLA. They claimed discrimintation when they exceeded the maximum number of days allowed to be on FMLA and were fired.

    Sorry but the law is clear in this state. I suggest if you do not like what has happened petiton a union next time for representation and ratify a contract.

    • Icabud Reb

      The law is clear on this and such law should be changed! No one is above the law but the law is not absolute!

  • C

    As a state agency that advocates for the well being of its constituents by oversight of educational institutions to provide equitable and quality education, the mission of the Board of Higher Education may be better served by oversight of its own budgetary and reduction in force practices whether separation from employment be at will or by contract. Failure to provide due process for any employee raises suspicion about the training of the Board’s own executives. May I suggest a college course in modern human resources policy.

  • Ruth

    Sorry Bud, but I disagree with you. First of all, Kristen did not exceed the max number of days for the FMLA and secondly the FMLA was passed to protect all employees, not just union employees!

  • Harold K.

    The law protects those taking family leave. However, the Department of Higher Education should not have to read the law to know what it did was wrong!

  • Melrose Mom: State Laid Me Off Days After Baby’s Funeral | Go Barnes

    […] Melrose Mom: State Laid Me Off Days After Baby’s Funeral A Melrose mom says tremendous loss has ripped at the core of her family and in this discrimination claim she says her former employer, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education is partially to blame. Read more on CBS Boston […]

  • Concerned Tax Payer

    How do these people sleep at night. Shame on the Board of Higher Ed and shame on the Governor for employing and supporting this type of action. I wonder who their legal counsel is…talk about needing an education..

  • Julie

    I’m confused. Is it the opinion of people in Mass. that if something awful happens in your family that you are cannot have your job terminated?
    Is this forever or is there some time-frme in which you are protected from the job actions that affect everyone else? Does it have to be a death, or does any other situation apply? Losing a baby is terrible. Losing a job is bad. There is no cosmic scale of balance that employers need to study in deciding whether a particular job is necessary in their business. It looks like the department in which this woman was employed found that the job she was doing was non-essential. There is nothing to show that she was being punished for having a family tragedy. This story does not show that someone else was brought in to fill her vacant position. Instead of doing interviews to try to get a payout, perhaps this woman could go look for a job. Unfortunately any potential employer who has seen this “report” knows trouble when they see and hear it.

  • metoo

    No Julie: its is not the opinion of anyone. It is a FEDERAL LAW, that protects an employee, when he or she takes family leave. In this case, the worker took a covered leave for the daughters birth. She is protected by the LAW. Unfortunately, during her leave, her child passed away. (another covered use of the Family leave act). The 2 incidents, didn’t exceed the allowed number of days she is entitled to, so both the birth and death of her child are covered under the law. She has every right to protest, as that is what the FMLA law was supposed to protect. Good luck Kristen, I hope you get satisfaction
    And my deepest condolences to you in your time of grief.

  • GL

    I hope she wins her lawsuit, gets her job back with all due pack pay + damages that will take care of her house situation. Massachusetts, clean up your act. Globe, here’s a Spotlight project for you.

  • JG

    Back in the days before FMLA, my mom’s coworker for the State of Oklahoma came down with a brain tumor. Because she was a single mom, the head guy of their department just kept her on the payroll for the last year of her life when she was unable to work, All the other people in the department were supportive of that, and no one blew the whistle. Sometimes the State can be your friend, but all too often it is not.

    Kristen, I am so sorry for your loss and I hope you get your job back.

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