(WJBK) - A former Wayne State University student won $850,000 after being told to wear looser-fitting clothing and not to rub her pregnant belly because it might excite men.
Tina Varlesi, 37, won an eight-year lawsuit against the university that began in 2007, when she was studying social work. During her last semester, she interned with the Salvation Army. She was pregnant at the time, and her internship leaders asked some inappropriate questions.
Example questions included "I don't see a ring," and "What is going on?" and statements such as, "The men can look but they can't touch," and "Do not show your pregnancy," according to Varlesi's attorney, Deborah Gordon.
Feeling helpless and uncomfortable, Varlesi said it only got worse from there.
"Tina was told many times, verbally and also in writing: Do not touch or rub your belly, you're going to sexually stimulate men that are here being treated for addiction problems," Gordon said.
Gordon said Varlesi wore maternity clothes but was told to wear "moo-moo" style dresses. She said she complained multiple times to university staff that she felt discriminated against.
"I knew that this was wrong and they had a very cavalier attitude," Varlesi said.
When she didn't think it could get any worse, Varlesi said she was asked why she just didn't drop out when she became pregnant. Her internship leader had also given her a failing grade for Varlesi's internship.
"Next thing Tina knew, she'd been literally thrown out of the school a week before graduation," Gordon said.
Wayne State officials told FOX 2 Tuesday that they are "disappointed with the court's ruling."
Looking back now, with her healthy 7-year-old son, Varlesi said she's proud she spoke up.
"It's really in poor taste and a disservice to students," she said.