A new Calgary mother says she was let go from her temp job after her employer found out she was pregnant, referring to it as a "condition."

Zahra (Mona) Deghanifard planned to stay on as a sewing machine operator with Canadian Linen and Uniform Services late into her pregnancy and return once she was able to, after the baby arrived. 

"I like working with hands and I like sewing, and I had good friends there," said Deghanifard.

'It was brought to my attention of your condition'

She started the job in August 2016. Some weeks she worked overtime, others she punched in only a few days and some she didn't work at all, she said.

She took some time off to visit her family in Iran. When she returned, she found out she was pregnant and told her supervisor.

A little over a week later, on Jan. 16, 2017, she told her supervisor she wasn't feeling well and stayed home. Reassured by her doctor that this was a normal part of her pregnancy, Deghanifard planned to go back to work the next day.

Before she could, her manager sent her a text reading, "It was brought to my attention of your condition. I am sorry that I cannot take a chance of something happening to you. I am truly sorry but I can not use you anymore."

Deghanifard was shocked by the response, and tried calling but there was no further communication, she told CBC News. The next day, she returned to work to reassure her manager she was healthy.

"He told me, 'we are worried about you, we can't take any responsibilities.' I told him, 'I have to take responsibilities, it's on me, not you,'" Deghanifard said. 

Despite her efforts, the manager wouldn't change his mind, she said.

"I was super sad and I was disappointed. I didn't expect that attitude from them," said Deghanifard.

 

Mohsen Andayesh

Mohsen Andayesh said even as a new Canadian he knew there was something wrong about how his wife was being treated. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Deghanifard's husband, Mohsen Andayesh, arrived from Iran in 2009, with Deghanifard coming in 2013. He said he knew the treatment of his wife didn't seem right.

"Because somebody's pregnant you can't lay them off. I think it was very unprofessional from the manager side, I was very surprised, actually," Andayesh said. 

"Even if something happens, I mean stuff can happen in pregnancy, but I don't think there was any risk to them."

Human rights complaint launched

The couple filed a human rights complaint in April.

In its response to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, the director of human resources for Canadian Linen and Uniform Services, Marilyn Johnson, wrote, "Ms. Zahra was unable to come to work due to some complications with what we learned was pregnancy-related."

"[The manager] became concerned for her well-being considering the work she would be required to do and indicated it was best for her not to report." 

Those things an employer can't do. - Sarah Coderre, Alberta lawyer

The company said the work includes handling materials, packaging and loading of product. It stated that the product, once packaged, weighs approximately 13 to 18 kilograms.

CBC News reached out to Canadian Linen and Uniform Services to clarify the response it filed to the commission. A spokesman said the filed statement was not completely accurate.

"[The manager] misspoke, misrepresented the situation," said Ben Saukko. 

Saukko said the manager was concerned about Deghanifard's health and he shared his personal feelings, but the company had also finished up its latest order and didn't need her services anymore.

The temp agency that hired Deghanifard, Manpower, told the commission they were informed Deghanifard's assignment had ended because her role involved lifting heavy items and in her condition the manager felt it could be harmful to her.

Deghanifard heard the company hired someone after letting her go.

Saukko says there could be any number of reasons why another temporary worker was brought in.

Worker Rights

Sarah Coderre, an Alberta employment standards lawyer, said under the Alberta Human Rights Act employers can't fire a worker for being pregnant unless there's a reason the pregnancy prevents them from doing their job. Even then, dismissal is acceptable only after the company has tried to accommodate the employee.

"If an employer wants to try and let you go while you are pregnant, they would have to jump through many, many, many hoops to do that," said Coderre.

If someone is then dismissed during pregnancy, severance based on the employee's contract is required, Coderre said. 

"It doesn't make a distinction between a full-time employee or part-time or casual or temp. If you are in an employment situation, you are not to be discriminated against on the basis of being pregnant, or being a woman, or starting a family."

"Those things an employer can't do."

Fight for others

Deghanifard said getting fired was a blow to her self-esteem and it took her a while to pull herself out of her depression. Now she has her new daughter, Diba, to brighten her days, and she looks forward to finding a similar job.

In the meantime, she and her husband hope this complaint will help others.

"Most importantly make sure similar cases don't happen again, that's my goal," said Andayesh.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission said it can take years to settle a dispute.