Jody and Scott Nicol lived in a $372,000 house in Fairfax County, had good jobs with a combined annual salary of $150,000 and were only in their thirties.
When Jody Nicol, a vice president of a Falls Church communications company, learned last fall that she was pregnant, she excitedly told her husband and her boss.
Her husband was thrilled, she said; her boss later fired her.
Scott Nicol, a vice president of ImageMatrix Inc., the same firm where his wife worked, was fired 10 minutes later, the couple said, after company executives told him they would feel uncomfortable working with him when they had just fired his wife.
"I was so demoralized," Jody Nicol said. "It was the holidays. We lost all our life savings. It was just devastating."
The Nicols, who had worked for ImageMatrix for about 1 1/2 years, said they later learned that two other women employed there had lost their jobs when they too became pregnant.
Federal, state and county laws prohibit firing an employee because of pregnancy. The Nicols and the other two women have filed complaints against ImageMatrix with Fairfax County's Human Rights Commission; the Nicols also have complained to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Michael Eggleston, president of ImageMatrix, denied that any workers at his firm have been let go because they were pregnant.
"ImageMatrix currently employs and will continue to employ persons who can perform the quality work necessary to maintain our high standards of excellence and work ethics," Eggleston wrote The Washington Post. He said his company operates "under the spirit and well-defined regulations of the national, state and local equal employment opportunity directives. This clearly includes nondiscrimination of race, handicap condition, religious beliefs, sex and, most certainly, state of health."
To make ends meet, the Nicols have sold most of their furniture and are trying to sell their four-bedroom house. Scott Nicol, 33, has a new job that pays $35,000 a year at another communications company; for additional income, he paints portraits and landscapes in his spare time. Jody Nicol, 37, got her real estate license last winter, but said she has yet to earn a sales commission.
Credit-card bills from the couple's more free-spending days remain unpaid, they said, and Jody Nicol takes their month-old son Austin with her when she shows houses because, she said, she cannot afford a baby sitter.
"We never had any bad credit," Jody Nicol said. "It's shot to hell. We've already been talking to attorneys about bankruptcy. It's been a big struggle through what should have been to me the highlight of my life."
One of the other women who has filed a complaint against ImageMatrix said she was fired two weeks after informing her bosses of her pregnancy. The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she was called to a superior's office one day after lunch and told to clear out her desk.
"I really needed the money at that time," she said, because her husband was starting his own company. "I lost my job and my benefits and I'm pregnant. I had to pay an extra $200 a month for my insurance if I wanted to keep it."
Both she and Jody Nicol said they were told they were being terminated because ImageMatrix had money problems.
The third woman who filed a complaint with the county could not be reached for comment.
The number of maternity-discrimination complaints filed with the federal EEOC has remained about the same since the commission began computerizing the data in the mid-1980s, EEOC officials said.
In 1986, 3,536 such complaints were filed; last year the number was 3,162, out of 105,000 complaints of all kinds.
Jody Nicol said that before she was fired, her employers repeatedly asked about her plans for having a family. When she informed them that she thought she was pregnant, they told her to get a blood test immediately, she said.
When the test confirmed her pregnancy, she said, she "got the cold shoulder" right away, and one of her bosses suggested she would no longer be able to work 70-hour weeks, she said.
She was not invited to meetings she previously would have attended, she said, and a few weeks later she was let go.
"It's been so hard to rebuild our lives," Jody Nicol said. "My job always came first. You'd think that would take care of you and protect you, but it doesn't."