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Pregnancy cost job, woman says

 
Published March 19, 1994|Updated Oct. 6, 2005

Things were looking up for Margaret Bonnell in January 1991. She was happy with her work, her new salary and her home.

Sixteen months later, Bonnell was jobless, homeless and pregnant.

She blames her former employer, the Altman Management Company, for everything but her pregnancy.

On the opening day of her federal discrimination trial Friday, Bonnell told jurors how employees at the Lakes of Northdale, a rental community managed by Altman, advised her to get an abortion.

She said a wicker basket containing loose change was placed on her desk by her immediate supervisor, who told her the money was an "abortion fund."

The company insists Bonnell's pregnancy was not a factor in her firing. And during cross-examination, Bonnell said she still considers as friends the employees who suggested she get an abortion.

"But you didn't sue your friends, you sued the company," said Griffin Bell, the attorney for the management company. He characterized the "abortion fund" basket as a misguided attempt at humor.

Bell told jurors Bonnell was fired for failing to meet her leasing quotas.

Bonnell now attends Hillsborough Community College, where she is taking courses she hopes will get her into nursing school.

She and her son Justin, now 17 months old, are living on money from Pell Grants, scholarships, student loans and other financial aid.

During a court recess, Bonnell, 31, described how her life changed after being fired in May 1992.

"It was hard to find a place to rent when you tell someone that you're unemployed and soon to be a single parent," she said. "And it was hard to find work in other apartment communities when you've just been fired."

She eventually moved in with a friend and filed for unemployment, she said. Her son was born the following October.

Tony Gonzalez, Bonnell's attorney, disputed the management company's claim that his client's work was inadequate. He compared her leasing rate for the last five months of her employment with the only other employee at Lakes of Northdale responsible for leasing.

According to figures supplied by Altman, Bonnell, an assistant property manager, was supposed to lease two apartments a week. She had a 50 percent success rate, the figures showed.

The other employee, a leasing consultant, had a quota of four apartments per week. Her success rate, according to company numbers, was 44 percent.

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday, with the defense presenting its case. The case could go to the jury as early as Tuesday.