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In the rarified air of national sports broadcasting, Luz Ramos Squillante thought she was on her way up. A Hispanic language commentator on ESPN’s Deportes network, Squillante — working under the professional name Luz Ramos — received consistent good reviews from her bosses, who plucked her out of the hinterlands covering the X-Games and assigned her to NFL Football. Until she got pregnant with twins. Suddenly, Squillante went from rising star to a sportscaster with potentially fatal work flaws, like the wrong tone of voice, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in early March. Her bosses soon decided against renewing her contract. Now Squillante is bringing a Title VII complaint against ESPN, alleging her pregnancy was the real reason for her dismissal. She retained Mary Kelly and Gregg Adler from the well-known employment law firm Livingston, Adler, Pulda, Meiklejohn & Kelly. Beyond the immediate allegations, the complaint contains what could amount to a larger PR problem for Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN. According to the suit, ESPN “has a pattern and practice of discriminating against on-air talent when they become pregnant.” “You can tell by watching our network that isn’t true,” says Mike Soltys, ESPN’s vice president of communications. In September 2003, ePregnancy magazine profiled SportsCenter personality Chris McKendry, detailing how she worked throughout her pregnancy while staying on the air. In a complaint laden with specifics, the item about ESPN’s pattern of discrimination contains no further explanation. When asked, Adler says they don’t have anything “concrete,” but that they intend to explore the issue in discovery. Adler also declined to make Squillante available for an interview. Squillante’s claim of a discrimination pattern will probably be a big battle during discovery, says Kenneth Plumb, a partner at Berchem Moses and Devlin and current chair of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Labor and Employment section. Though not involved in the case, Plumb says ESPN would probably seek to steer any discovery away from the topic. “As far as how they treated anybody else, I would argue strenuously through motions in limine and such that that evidence should be excluded,” Plumb says. “If it is included, you would be litigating every one of those [employment] decisions. You really wind up trying all those cases.” Squillante started at ESPN in July 2000 as a per diem employee with little sports coverage experience, according to the complaint, but her bosses liked what they saw. “They informed her that they were impressed by her work and wanted her to audition for work in the studio,” the lawsuit says. “After this audition, in September 2000, [ESPN] offered her a one-year employment contract.” She went to work in the International Department, broadcasting to Spanish speaking audiences. In September 2001, ESPN asked her to cover the NFL for the launch of Deportes. Squillante’s bosses complimented her throughout her employment, and even invited her to an event at Lincoln Center, where she represented the Deportes network and impressed various network executives, the complaint says. When Squillante became pregnant in March 2003, she decided to wait until the end of her first trimester before telling the network. She told some colleagues in early July, when her boss Larry Colon was on vacation. However, Squillante believes Colon found out, because on his return he sent an email criticizing her performance, such as the terminology she used on the air. This was the first time her performance had ever been criticized in writing, according to the complaint. The two met. Squillante informed Colon the criticism “did not make sense,” the complaint says, and asked her boss whether he knew she was pregnant. “Mr. Colon initially claimed that he did not know,” the complaint says. “However, when she informed him that she was entering her fifth month of pregnancy, Mr. Colon remarked, ‘I didn’t know that you were that far along.’” This is a crucial point. “If the protected class is pregnant women, and the employer didn’t know anything about that, it is hard to argue any discrimination based on that protected class,” Plumb says. “The case is without merit,” ESPN’s VP Soltys says. “In September 2003 her two year contract — along with two men also doing international voiceovers — was not renewed.” After the Colon meeting, Squillante voiced her concerns to another superior that her pregnancy motivated Colon’s criticisms. By the end of July, she walked into a meeting where two bosses said her contract would not be renewed. Squillante protested that she should be given a chance to correct any perceived deficiencies, but was told by one boss that he didn’t believe “the purported problems, such as the tone of her voice, could be corrected.” At one more meeting arranged by the Human Resources Department, Squillante was given the opportunity to audition again in three months, provided she hire a voice coach and improve her Spanish. “However, as [Squillante] was seven months pregnant with twins at that time, it was obvious that she could not take advantage of such an offer,” the complaint says, adding that she is a certified interpreter by the Connecticut Superior Court. Squillante seeks reinstatement to her job and damages.

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