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A former spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Heineman has sued the state, claiming she lost her job because of her pregnancy.

Jen Rae Wang was 34 weeks pregnant when state Natural Resources Director Jeff Fassett told her he was eliminating her position as the agency's communications and statewide planning director.

The decision was "in no way performance-related," Fassett told Wang on Sept. 11, 2015, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Wang lost her $90,000 salary — her family's primary source of income — as well as her health insurance coverage.

The firing also damaged her reputation and caused her emotional distress and anxiety, the lawsuit says.

Lori Arthur, a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, said the agency hadn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment Friday.

Wang, who since has been hired by the Omaha-based Platte Institute for Economic Research, took the Natural Resources job after losing her position as Heineman's spokeswoman in January 2015 when Heineman left office. She had worked for the governor's office since 2007.

She began discussing maternity leave with Natural Resources staff in July 2015, and made arrangements to work from home 10 to 15 hours a week to supplement her income while taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Fassett became director the following month.

"From the outset," he treated Wang differently from other workers, her complaint says: refusing to make eye contact or offer feedback, and ignoring her greetings and attempts at chitchat.

The day Wang submitted her maternity leave paperwork to a human resources manager, Fassett called a meeting and told her she was being let go.

When Wang offered to take a pay cut and switch to a then-vacant spokesperson job for the agency, Fassett replied, "I think it's best if you just look for other opportunities outside of the agency," her lawsuit says.

Her direct supervisor formally objected, saying it was unethical to fire a hard-working, pregnant employee, according to the lawsuit. Fassett's alleged response: "Well, she put herself in that position."

Wang's lawsuit seeks back pay, three years' salary, lost benefits, compensation for damages and attorney's fees.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @zachami.

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