(JTA) – The oldest Jewish congregation in the United States said it “categorically denies” allegations by an employee that she was fired because she was pregnant at the time of her wedding.
Congregation Shearith Israel, the New York synagogue popularly known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and founded in 1654, in a news release Friday refuted the claims made by Alana Shultz, who claimed in a lawsuit filed on the eve of Yom Kippur that she was dismissed after the synagogue learned that she was pregnant at her June wedding.
In the release, the Orthodox congregation said it did nothing wrong and that Shultz, its program director, has not been fired.
“She continues to remain employed in the exact same title, receiving the exact same compensation and benefits that she had been receiving all along,” the release said. “Her claim of loss is fabricated and inaccurate. She has received (and continues to receive to this very day) every penny, including for health benefits – even though she has not been to work since August 14th.”
Lawyers for Shultz filed the suit Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, claiming that Shultz was about 23 weeks pregnant when she was dismissed on July 21, according to the 13-page complaint, Courthouse News reported. The lawsuit alleges three counts of violations of the Family Medical Leave Act and New York City and New York State human rights laws.
“After working tirelessly at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue for the last 11 years, I am beyond saddened they’ve forced me to file this lawsuit, which I hope will help other women avoid what they did to me during what should be a time for celebration and joy,” Shultz said in a statement, the New York Post reported.
Shultz said in the lawsuit that she told her supervisor about her pregnancy as she left on her honeymoon. The supervisor told the congregation’s rabbi, Meir Soloveichik, and a board member, Michael Lustig, according to the lawsuit. Upon returning from her honeymoon, Shultz was told that her position was being eliminated due to restructuring. Also, the congregation asked her to sign a release waiving litigation and agreeing not to badmouth the synagogue in exchange for six weeks of severance pay.
When Shultz hired a lawyer, the congregation offered to reinstate her, the lawsuit said. Schultz became program director in 2004, according to the synagogue’s website.
The congregation’s release said it was “unfortunate that Ms. Shultz and her lawyers took advantage of the Synagogue’s inability to respond to press inquiries in the hours before Yom Kippur. The Congregation intends to defend itself vigorously.”