Former Miami Heat lawyer claims she was fired for going on maternity leave

JULIA JACOBO

Former Miami Heat lawyer claims she was fired for going on maternity leave originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

A former attorney for the Miami Heat NBA team is suing the basketball organization in federal court, claiming she was fired in retaliation for taking maternity leave.

Vered Yakovee, who was a vice president and associate general counsel for The Heat Group, had been approved to become an adoptive parent in the fall of 2018 and received the news that she was selected to adopt a newborn baby on the evening of July 9, 2019, according to the complaint, filed earlier this month in the Southern District of Florida.

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The next morning, Yakovee informed her immediate supervisor, The Heat Group's Executive Vice President and General Counsel Raquel Libman, of her immediate need for parental leave, to which Libman allegedly responded, "now I definitely won't be get to take a vacation," and "what am I going to do with [your Assistant Counsel]?" the lawsuit states.

Yakovee offered "multiple times" to go to the office for a few days for Libman's convenience, "to ensure she had transitioned matters in an organization and effective manner, and to address any other matter of importance," but Libman declined each offer, according to the court documents.

Yakovee then took formal leave beginning on July 11 and returned to work 12 weeks later on Oct. 3, as permitted by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

FMLA, a labor law, states that eligible employees can have up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth and adoption or to care for a close relative in poor health, which includes care for a new child, whether for birth, adoption or placement into foster care. FMLA requires 30 days' notice to the employer for "foreseeable" leave, "except that if the date of the birth or placement requires leave to begin in less than 30 days," in which the employee "shall provide notice as is practicable."

PHOTO: A general view of American Airlines Arena prior to the game between the Miami Heat and the Memphis Grizzlies in Miami, Oct. 23, 2019. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images, FILE)

On the morning of Yakovee's first day back to work, she was "immediately confronted with a lengthy email" from Libman that reportedly accused her of missing deadlines during her leave and misrepresented a project that Yakovee worked on before her leave, according to the lawsuit.

Yakovee says in the suit she was told via email by The Heat Group's president of business operations, Eric Woolworth, that Libman was "upset" about discussions Yakovee had with him about her leave. But, the complaint states, Libman had not talked to Yakovee about that until she got back to work. On Oct. 14 -- a week and a half after she returned to work -- Yakovee was told by Libman's executive assistant that Libman was upset about her maternity leave and that she should "tread lightly," according to the complaint.

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From Oct. 3 to her "forced departure" on Dec. 19, Libman treated Yakovee with "disdain and hostility,"according to the lawsuit, which also accuses Libman of berating her and making complaints about her FMLA leave both privately and in group meetings and emails.

Yakovee was a valued employee prior to taking parental leave, according to the complaint. In January 2019, Yakovee received her last performance review prior to taking her leave, during which Libman gave her "the highest rating possible" in all categories, the complaint states.

Yakovee received a bonus as a result of that review, and she had received an annual pay increase as well as merit-based bonuses twice a year during each year of her employment since 2015.

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Libman handed Yakovee her first critical performance review on Nov. 27 (although reviews are typically given in January), according to the lawsuit. When Yakovee attempted to ask questions about "erroneous and unfounded critiques," Libman said "she could not discuss it without Human Resources present because there was an ongoing 'investigation,' and that Ms. Yakovee did 'not understand' the consequences of her actions," the complaint states.

On Dec. 4, the director of human resources emailed Yakovee to criticize her for not having provided "enough advance notice" for her maternity leave. She was fired on Dec. 19, one day after taking a sick day to take her baby to the doctor, according to the lawsuit. Before that, she had claims in the lawsuit to have never taken a sick day during her tenure with The Heat Group.

The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $75,000 as well as attorney's fees, interests and costs. It also seeks for Yakovee to be reinstatement to a position comparable to her prior position with back pay plus interest, pension rights and all benefits. The Heat Group is listed as the sole defendant.

A representative for the Miami Heat did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment. ABC News could not immediately reach Libman for comment.