A lawyer is suing her public defender boss for gender discrimination claiming he told her to dress ‘like a nun’ because her outfits were causing prisoners to masturbate, before he allegedly fired her when she complained about his comments.
Former public defense attorney Jami Pellerin filed a lawsuit against District Public Defender G. Paul Marx accusing him of firing her from the 15th Judicial District Indigent Defender’s Office in Lafayette, Louisiana, after she reported his inappropriate comments to human resources.
Pellerin claims her boss repeatedly made sexual and sexist remarks to her in the three years she worked there including asking her about her sex life, telling her to dress ‘less attractive’ and warning her he could fire her for being ‘too attractive.’
She also alleges she was underpaid compared to her male colleagues ever since she was hired by the defender’s office in March 2017.
The attorney says she was fired in March 2020 in retaliation for complaining about the alleged unequal pay and harassment.
Marx has denied the allegations branding them ‘sick lies’ and claims Pellerin was fired for missing training to attend a wedding.
Lawyer Jami Pellerin (left) is suing District Public Defender G. Paul Marx (right) for gender discrimination claiming he told her to dress ‘like a nun’ because her appearance caused inmates to masturbate – before he allegedly fired her when she complained
In the 28-page lawsuit filed in Lafayette last week, Pellerin says Marx would often ask her about her sex life and whether she was going to get pregnant.
It claims the comments started straight away with Marx asking her when she was first hired if she was married and warning her the office couldn’t afford maternity pay if she became pregnant.
When she returned to work after getting married in 2018, Pellerin claims Marx repeatedly asked her if she was pregnant yet.
The suit cites one particular incident in September 2019 where Marx as well as HR Director Chris St. Julien and staff attorney Janet Brown allegedly told her that her outfits were inappropriate and she should dress more ‘like a nun’.
Pellerin was told her appearance was causing inmates at the parish jail to masturbate and that it was her responsibility to dress ‘less attractive,’ the suit alleges.
Marx allegedly told her: ‘Men don’t have self control. As their attorney and an employee of the public defender, you have to protect these men from their basic instinct by being less attractive.’
Pellerin claims she was also warned she would be fired if she didn’t correct the situation by changing her outfit choices.
Pellerin’s attorney Jill Craft told News 10 the comments she endured on a regular basis were ‘intensely personal.’
‘There were not only comments about her personally, about the way she dressed, her marriage, whether she was going to get pregnant or not, things that no employer has any business asking about, and from her perspective, even though she complained about it, she reported it to whoever she could think of,’ she said.
When Pellerin raised concerns about Marx’s comments, he allegedly told her: ‘I can fire you for being too attractive, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’
Pellerin (right) claims her boss repeatedly made sexual and sexist remarks to her in the three years she worked there including asking her about her sex life, telling her to dress ‘less attractive’ and warning her he could fire her for being ‘too attractive’
She also alleges she was underpaid compared to her male colleagues before being fired in retaliation for complaining about the alleged unequal pay and harassment
The suit also alleges Pellerin was underpaid from the day compared to her male colleagues, with some paid 10 percent more despite becoming licensed attorneys at around the same time as her.
Pellerin was hired as a staff attorney in the juvenile division for $51,000 a year on March 1 2017, the suit says.
Her male predecessor had been paid $56,000, she says.
Pellerin had already passed the Louisiana bar exam and was a licensed attorney.
She says she was then transferred to a felony position, replacing a man who had only had his license for around two months but had been earing more than her at $58,000.
Pellerin claims she tried to bring up the topic of pay with Marx in a November 20178 meeting, but was met with more sexual comments in response.
Pellerin claims she reported the gender discrimination and harassment to the office’s human resources and was fired in retaliation.
The Lafayette Parish Courthouse where the 15th Judicial District Indigent Defender’s Office resides.
‘The outcome should have never happened. If folks have complaints of discrimination, they are free in this country to be not retaliated against, and in Mrs. Pellerin’s circumstance, she contends that’s exactly what happened to her,’ Craft said.
Pellerin also claims her dismissal was retaliation for her helping a private defense attorney in February 2020 – one month before her firing.
She claims her male colleagues were also helping the attorney and that she had also offered advice.
She says she was reprimanded by Marx for this while her male coworkers were later praised.
Marx denied the allegations as ‘sick lies’ telling The Advocate the real reason for Pellerin’s dismissal was that she had skipped scheduled training to go to a friend’s wedding and was working ‘out of her lane’ with prison inmates.
He said Pellerin often wore ‘tight, revealing, low-neckline’ clothing but insisted she was not subject to a special dress code ‘other than our normal policy, which says you’re representing the office and you can’t do whatever you want.’
Pellerin’s attorney Jill Craft told News 10 the comments she endured on a regular basis were ‘intensely personal’
The public defender told the Daily Advertiser Pellerin has a ‘vendetta’ against his office and the suit is based on ‘scandalous quotes that were fabricated in large part’.
‘I want women who have these issues to have a fair hearing,’ Marx said.
‘I also want this to be based on the reality of the workplace and not a vendetta of someone who is angry getting back at the office.’
Marx admitted there was a meeting about Pellerin’s attire but that her version of events was not accurate.
‘We’ve got a record of what happened and what was said, but this petition was drafted in such a way as to sensationalize that,’ he said.
After she was fired in March 2020, Pellerin first took her complaint to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
When the EEOC was unable to resolve the dispute, she filed the suit against Marx and his office.
Pellerin is seeking unspecified damages for ‘extreme emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment’ and has asked for a trial by jury.