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San Fran Attorney Shocked by Pregnancy Bias

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San Francisco, CAThere is something marvelously fun about attorney Angela Alioto. The daughter of Sicilian immigrants, born and raised in San Francisco, she started law school at the age of 29 after her four children were born and has become a relentless anti-discrimination lawyer with a tidy list of courtroom victories and settlements related to everything from race to sexual orientation cases. She speaks it "Straight to the Heart," as her autobiography is titled.

She's just wrapped up (and won) a pregnancy discrimination case against Hollywood movie maker giant George Lucas. "In my career as a discrimination lawyer I have never dealt with such an oppressive defense team," says Alioto.

And that's not all. Despite what the law says, it shocked Alioto to find out that many Americans think pregnant women don't have rights. "I have never before had such trouble in getting people to believe in the law," she says. "So many people don't believe that pregnant women have a right to work!

"We interviewed 180 prospective jurors, and 72 percent did not believe pregnant women have a right to work"
"We interviewed 180 prospective jurors, and 72 percent did not believe pregnant women have a right to work. That was the largest obstacle, after the seven lawyers on the other side hounding us for a year."

Plaintiff Julie Veronese, who happens to Alioto's daughter-in-law, alleged that Lucasfilm Ltd. withdrew a job offer after learning she was pregnant. In evidence at the trial were a series of internal emails that expressed concern about having a pregnant woman at the Lucas family compound and whether or not a pregnant woman could do the job. "And then there is of course the maternity leave," the email went on.

"It is the caretaker defense," says Alioto. "I care so much about you that you're fired."

The jury awarded Vernoese $93,800 for lost wages and $20,000 for emotional distress, but rejected the call for punitive damages.

"The funny thing is when you explain to people the effect of discriminating on the basis of pregnancy would have on women, the effect of not being able to pay your rent or feed your child, some people don't seem to get it," says Alioto.

"I mean the effect of woman not being able to keep a job because she is pregnant is horrendous, on top of the ugliness of discrimination."

The case drew international headlines and Lucasfilm Ltd. has indicated it intends to appeal.

"Great to talk to you too, stay in touch," she says as she hangs up the phone.

Something tells me we'll be hearing about Ms. Alioto and her anti-discrimination legal efforts again soon.

Angela Alioto is the senior partner at Alioto Law Group in San Francisco. She is a graduate the University of San Francisco School of Law and a well-known community activist and leader.

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