Oklahoma City public school secretary says she was fired while on maternity leave

OKLAHOMA CITY - Stephanie Gonzalez is working to keep up with her 9-week-old twins, Serena and Ricky Junior.

She was expecting to be back at work by now but said the Oklahoma City school district gave away her job while she was on leave.

"It's horrible. I cry all the time," Gonzalez said. "I was like I don't know what to do."

Gonzalez was a financial secretary at Emerson Alternative School in downtown Oklahoma City but had to go on bed rest late last year.

She said she was assured her job would be there when she got back.

"'If he puts you on bed rest, just take care of yourself,'” Gonzalez said she was told. "'Your job will be right here when you get back.'"

But, she said, a week before she was supposed to go back, a secretary at the school texted her to come pick up her things.

"I was like, 'So, he hired somebody else?'" Gonzales said. "And, she said, 'Yeah, he hired somebody else because you'd been gone so long.'"

Gonzalez’s FMLA leave had technically run out even before she had the babies since she had to go on bed rest.

But, she said, even if the district didn’t break any employment laws, it’s a terrible thing to do to a new mother.

"I've gone through everything to take care of my kids and to make sure they're here, they're laughing because I laid down and you treated me like I just took a vacation or something,” Gonzalez said.

"We would love to see Oklahoma and other states in the region start to tackle the subject of statewide paid leave,” said Liz Waggoner, executive director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition.

Waggoner has no involvement with Gonzalez’s case but said the issue of women taking leave is a big problem.

"The cost of hiring a new employee is exponentially higher than what you would pay in the short term just for a little added leave,” Waggoner said.

Gonzalez said she was offered an interview at Cesar Chavez Elementary for a clerk position but said it pays less than her old job and it wasn’t a guarantee.

"They weren't just going to put me in it," Gonzalez said. "I had to interview for it, so it was like I was starting all over like I was coming off the streets."

The Oklahoma City school district sent us this response to the story:

“This employee went on leave in November 2017. The principal chose to post and fill her position during the time, which does not violate the law or district policy. Our HR team is currently working to locate a comparable placement elsewhere in the District at this time. No document was provided by OKCPS guaranteeing that she would return to her same position at Emerson North.”