Brockton mom with postpartrum depression wins lawsuit after losing BU job

Marc Larocque

Published 4:57 p.m. ET Oct. 13, 2019 | Updated 5:01 p.m. ET Oct. 13, 2019

BROCKTON – It’s hard to understand the feeling of postpartum depression to those who have not experienced it, she said.

“Your mind is stuck in negative thoughts,” said the Brockton mother. “It’s like a CD that just keeps on skipping, and you have no control of it. I’d be sitting there watching a TV that’s turned off, while I have my newborn by my leg. I wouldn’t go to sleep. I was thinking something bad is going to happen, that he’s going to sleep and won’t wake up.”

Maria Alves, now 40, said she was suffering from postpartum depression following the birth of her son in June 2016, her only child, when at the time she was employed for about nine years as an administrative assistance, coordinating appointments at a dental clinic at the school of medicine at Boston University. Alves and her lawyer both said she used her maternity leave, asked for an extension and then sought an additional medical leave, since her condition had not yet improved. But Alves said the university denied that final request, leaving her without a steady job with as a new mom with a baby she needed to support.

“I was definitely surprised,” said Alves, reached after the verdict. “I had worked there almost 10 years. I was not expecting to be terminated. Going through postpartum depression is a task in itself, let alone to get terminated. It was definitely a trying time as a new mother.”

Alves recently won a disability discrimination lawsuit against Boston University, challenging her former employer’s denial of a second medical leave, following the birth of her son and her development of postpartrum depression about three years ago. A jury awarded Alves, represented by Newton-based attorneys Matthew Fogelman and Jeff Simons, a total of $144,000 in compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress at the conclusion of a six-day trial on Sept. 26 at Suffolk Superior Court.

Boston University issued a brief response to questions about the lawsuit.

“The university respects the jurors’ verdict and wishes Ms. Alves the best going forward,” said Colin Riley, a spokesperson for Boston University.

Fogelman said that Alves will also be awarded interest on the verdict dating back to when the case was filed in 2017, for a total of $182,000. Fogelman said he’s also petitioning for BU to cover attorney fees.

“The employer has to grant a ‘reasonable accommodation,’ unless they can show it’s an undue burden or hardship,” said Fogelman, referring to language from the Americans With Disabilities Act, as it relates to Alves’ case. “(BU’s defense attorneys) tried to demonstrate that, but the jury found that they did not demonstrate that there was an undue hardship. … We feel very gratified that the jury found in favor of Maria. Postpartum depression is a very serious and common condition that affects a lot of women. This is a prevalent issue. We were pleased to put this case forward and get the result that we did.”

According to U.S. Centers for Disease, about one in nine women suffer from symptoms of postpartum depression, which may last for weeks or even months at a time – more lengthy and intense than the “baby blues” that mothers experience more commonly. Symptoms of postpartum depression include a lasting sad, anxious or “empty” mood, according to the federal agency, and it can lead to deep feelings of hopelessness, guilt or helplessness, along with restlessness, loss of energy, difficult concentrating, and thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.

Alves said she has since recovered from postpartum depression, and continues to raise her son, now 3-year-old Luis Anthony.

“It definitely was an experience I wouldn’t wish on any parent,” said Alves, encouraging others to seek medical assistance if they believe they may have postpartrum depression. “Before I experienced this, I was one of those people who couldn’t relate to it. … For people with postpartum depression, once you have it, definitely reach out for help.”

Alves said financially she took a toll, having to go on unemployment at the time. But later, with the assistance of Fogelman and others, Alves was eventually able to find a job at a law office in Brockton.

“Financially, I never really recovered,” the Brockton mom said. “But now I’m working. I don’t have postpartum depression anymore. I’m just like everyone else, just living life.”

« Back to Our Blog and Resource Center – Boston Injury & Massachusetts Employment Law

Can We Help You?

Call 617.559.1530 or complete the form below.


By submitting this form, Fogelman Law will take no action on your behalf. Submission of this form does not establish an attorney-client relationship.