$849K pregnancy bias award upheld against WSU

The Detroit News

A federal appeals court has upheld an award of nearly $849,000 to a former Wayne State University graduate student who said her pregnancy helped lead to her ouster from the school’s social work program.

In a ruling issued Monday, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal from Wayne State of a federal District Court decision that ordered the university to pay Tina Varlesi $848,690.

Varlesi alleged she got a poor review during a 2008 internship at the Salvation Army because her pregnancy offended her supervisor there. As a result of that review, Wayne State dropped her from the School of Social Work, where she was pursuing a master's degree.

Varlesi sued Wayne State and the Salvation Army in December 2010, alleging she was told to “wear baggy clothes” during the internship and called a “beached whale,” the suit said.

In an evaluation, supervisors told Varlesi, who had a 3.96 grade point average at the time, she failed 53 of 54 categories for her internship, according to the suit. She then was dismissed from the social work program. Despite filing a complaint with Wayne State’s Office of Equal Opportunity, Varlesi’s attempts to challenge her grades and termination were denied.

The federal district court dismissed the Salvation Army from the suit before ruling against Wayne State in January 2013.