Marybeth Walz of New Jersey was an executive at Verizon for 17 years, but now she’s suing the communications giant for allegedly denying her maternity leave when she had twins through a surrogate and then firing her when she took leave to grieve when her children died.
A Verizon spokesman told The Daily Beast that “women who become parents via surrogates are not currently covered by” the company’s paid maternity leave policies, but that “Verizon has a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination of any kind and strongly denies any claims of it in this matter.”
Walz’s twins, Jude and Thad, were born four months early via an emergency caesarian section in 2013. She isn’t able to have children herself because her uterus was removed as part of cervical cancer treatment in 2001.
Walz had some of her eggs freezed in 2011, then found a sperm donor in 2013. Her sister-in-law, Colleen, agreed to be a surrogate.
In August 2013, Walz requested paid maternity leave, which is six to eight weeks off. The human resources manager allegedly told her that she was ineligible and suggested she take unpaid leave with the Family Medical Leave Act.
Walz reportedly tried to explain that she couldn’t carry children on her own and claimed her hysterectomy constituted a “pregnancy-related medical condition and disability.”
The human resources manager allegedly suggested she “just adopt” twins instead so she could qualify for reimbursements through the company’s adoption program.
“Shame you are doing it that way, because we would have given you the $10,000 [Adoption Assistance Policy] benefit,” the manager reportedly told Walz.
According to court records, Walz sold her house in order to take unpaid time off.
In November 2013, Jude and Thad were born. Thad died of a pulmonary hemorrhage the next day, but Jude survived, although he was in critical condition. Jude was later diagnosed with infantile fibrosarcoma, a rare form of congenital cancer. He died in May 2014.
According to Warrior Jude, a website dedicated to the twins, both children died in Walz’s arms.
In February 2014, Walz was notified she would be demoted to an entry-level sales position, which would result in a significant pay cut.
“Ms. Walz’s emotional distress resulting from Verizon’s treatment of her … during an otherwise emotionally traumatic time, resulted in her subsequent major depressive disorder,” her lawsuit states.
Walz was granted short-term disability for severe depression following the death of her children. She alleges that the company never offered her the opportunity to gradually return to work or any other accommodations.
Walz then applied for long-term disability, which was granted in September 2014.
According to the lawsuit, a representative for Verizon’s insurance provider, MetLife, said Walz could return to her job or a comparable position when she improved.
Soon after, Walz was fired and she has been unemployed since.
“This is a person who gave a lot of value to the company, and in her time of need, in pain, they effectively kicked her while she was down,” said Walz’s attorney, Nancy Cremins.
Though Verizon won’t comment on the pending litigation, cases like this one are becoming more common as more women opt for surrogacy. The legal fallout has also tested the boundaries of what constitutes discrimination.
Naomi Cahn, a law professor at George Washington University, told The Daily Beast that the outcome of Walz’s case would likely depend on how Verizon’s maternity leave policy is worded.
“Was it designed to exclude surrogate mothers, or was it thought of as so uncommon that it wasn’t included?” she questioned. “It’s up to Verizon to explain why it allows mothers but not surrogate mothers paid maternity leave.”