A pregnant PR executive was fired from her $120,000-a-year post at a New York City firm after her boss claimed she ‘could not be trusted’ because of her ‘pregnancy brain’, a lawsuit claims.
Rachann McKnight, 37, alleges that she was fired by Press Hook after she was ‘cruelly and unlawfully gaslit’ by the company’s founder and CEO, Michelle Songy, during a ‘campaign of gender-based harassment’.
McKnight alleges that Songy, also 37, made a series of harmful comments before she was fired, including ‘squeeze tight and keep the baby in longer’, court filings allege. She also told other staff ‘no one else better get pregnant’, it is claimed.
Songy, who lives in a $2 million home in Atlanta, Georgia, is further accused of failing to support McKnight while she suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of sickness, during the pregnancy.
In a statement to AlertContent.com Songy said McKnight’s claims are ‘completely unfounded’ and that she and her company ‘are prepared to launch a full legal defense’.
Rachann McKnight (pictured), 37, claims she was fired from her executive role at a PR firm after her boss, Michelle Songy, said she ‘could not be trusted’ because of her ‘pregnancy brain’
Michelle Songy (pictured), also 37, allegedly told McKnight to ‘squeeze tight and keep the baby in longer’. She is also accused in the lawsuit of failing to deliver promised salary increases
McKnight, who lives in Brooklyn, New York City, joined Press Hook, a marketing and media relations firm, as chief of staff in September 2021. She was ‘second in command’ to Songy, an entrepreneur who founded the company a year earlier after selling her previous business to American Express.
Her claims are outlined in a civil lawsuit obtained by AlertContent.com, which was filed in the Eastern District of New York on October 11.
The complaint claims that McKnight joined the company on a $120,000-a-year salary and was promised a $20,000 pay rise if she met certain targets. She was promoted to Vice President of Operations and People in November 2021 and promised another pay rise, this time to $160,000, but the lawsuit claims she never received any of the increases.
McKnight was at first ‘consistently praised’ for her role and headed an accounts team of 15 employees, along with a sales team of three employees, and served as ‘head of HR, finance and operations’.
But things ‘truly took a turn for the worse’ in December 2021 when McKnight informed Songy of her pregnancy.
‘After suffering two prior miscarriages, [McKnight] was cautiously optimistic and wanted to plan and prepare for the future, so she informed Defendant Songy – who reacted, not with congratulations, but a look of horror,’ the suit said.
McKnight asked Songy about the firm’s family leave policy and was ‘curtly’ told, ‘we have none’, according to the complaint. McKnight offered to formulate a policy as part of her HR role and Songy replied that she ‘wanted to provide employees with the bare minimum time off required by law’ of 12 weeks, it is claimed.
The suit added: ‘Simultaneously, Defendant Songy began her campaign of gender-based harassment against [McKnight] – rife with invasions of [McKnight]’s privacy, degrading slurs about pregnant women and their bodies, disparate treatment in terms of pay, and exclusion from work functions – all because of her status as a pregnant woman.’
McKnight claims the first incident occurred in about January 2022 when Songy ‘inexplicably informed other employees of the pregnancy’ during a lunch, without her consent.
The suit says: ‘Songy blurted out ‘just tell them already.’ Because [McKnight] was still so early in her pregnancy, she was hesitant to share the news with others and she felt extremely uncomfortable about Defendant Songy’s intrusiveness and lack of respect for her privacy.’
In February, Songy allegedly ‘nastily’ told McKnight ‘oh good, you look the same’, a reference to the fact she had not yet begun to ‘show’.
At this time, McKnight had also started to suffer from severe sickness which impacted her ability to work. On one occasion, Songy and McKnight traveled to a work event in Nashville, Tennessee, and McKnight had to retire to her room early one evening because of the condition.
Songy allegedly told her that in future, she should only ‘come [on work trips] when you’re fun and you can drink.’ She also accused McKnight of scheduling more obstetrician-gynecologist appointments than necessary, the suit said.
It added: ‘Defendant Songy often liked to tell [McKnight] to ‘squeeze tight and keep the baby in longer,’ or threaten that she ‘better not have this baby early,’ implying that she wanted to get as much work out of [McKnight] as possible.’
‘Defendant Songy also began to gaslight [McKnight] and question her abilities both via Slack and in person, by stating that [McKnight] could ‘not be trusted’ because of her ‘pregnancy brain,’ all while Defendant Songy continued to widen her scope of duties.’
Songy also allegedly said that ‘no one else better get pregnant’ and told McKnight by Slack that she should accept a lower salary because of her ‘impending maternity leave’, it is claimed.
McKnight further alleges that she was excluded from an ‘executive retreat for upper level management’ in Atlanta, George, in May 2022 and was later told by Songy: ‘Well, you’re pregnant, I didn’t think you needed to come.’
In a statement to AlertContent.com, McKnight said that Songy’s alleged behavior left her ‘disgusted by how a fellow woman in business could treat someone’
The suit accuses Press Hook and its CEO, Songy (pictured), of an ‘unfortunate refusal to treat pregnant employees with dignity, equality and compassion’
McKnight, who lives in Brooklyn, New York City, joined The Press Hook, a marketing and media relations firm, as chief of staff in September 2021. She was ‘second in command’ to Songy
During another meeting, Songy allegedly told McKnight: ‘Oh good, you’re not too big yet.’
The suit says McKnight was fired in June 2022 after Songy sent her and two other employees and email stating they ‘need to immediately take a pay cut, as the company was in desperate need to find an additional $50,000 a month’.
The following day, Songy told McKnight during their weekly meeting, which was held by video call, that she ‘cost too much money for someone who was going on a three-month vacation’ – a reference to her upcoming maternity leave.
McKnight responded that ‘maternity leave is not a vacation’ but was immediately told that ‘Defendant Songy, along with the investors, had decided to terminate [her] employment effective immediately’.
The suit alleges discrimination based on McKnight’s pregnancy and illness, along with a breach of New York’s human rights law, and a breach of contract.
McKnight has suffered financial harm along with severe emotional, psychology and physical stress, according to the suit, which calls for a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages.
A spokesperson for The Press Hook told AlertContent.com: ‘Ms. McKnight’s claims are completely unfounded.
‘Press Hook is a small, women-owned business designed to help other small businesses gain traction and stand out in the busy media landscape. In accordance with our commitment to diversity, inclusivity and equal treatment, Press Hook, and Ms. Songy in particular, ensures the support of all employees without discrimination based on disability, pregnancy, or any other protected classes.
‘We vehemently deny the allegations made in Ms. McKnight’s complaint and are prepared to launch a full legal defense.’
In a statement to .com, McKnight further claimed there was ‘constant pressure to party, binge drink, and stay out at all hours’ while at Press Hook.
‘Once I became pregnant, Michelle made countless derogatory and offensive comments about my pregnancy, including about my physical size, the effect my hormones ‘might have’ on my work, and, at one point, she even asked if I had considered having an abortion,’ she said.
‘She cruelly questioned whether my unborn baby would have “problems or be slow like my other son” in reference to my older child’s Autism diagnosis.’
McKnight said that Songy’s decision to sack her left her ‘disgusted by how a fellow woman in business could treat someone’.
‘I am bringing this lawsuit so that no other pregnant woman has to endure the cruel and unlawful treatment that I experienced at Press Hook,’ she added.
Filippatos PLLC, the law firm representing McKnight, added: ‘No woman should have to choose between becoming a mother and remaining employed.
Press Hook’s unlawful decision to terminate Ms. McKnight’s employment while she was on the cusp of giving birth has ruined what should have been a joyous time in Ms. McKnight’s life. Our firm will hold Press Hook and Michelle Songy accountable for their unlawful and abhorrent actions.’