I read an article recently on Huffington Post and was outraged. The title: "A Woman Told Her Boss About a Devastating Cancer Diagnosis. He Responded By Firing a Her."*
The woman in question is named Carol Jumper had worked for an oral surgery center for the last 12 years...and was fired for being diagnosed with cancer (which is illegal under the ADA). To make matters worse, she was fired via a handwritten letter. She was not even given the courtesy of a face-to-face discussion of her condition.
Her former employer, Dr. George Visnich, now believes himself to be a victim because that letter of dismissal has gone viral, with an understandably negative reaction. He claims she was always welcome to come back, but this is never said or even hinted at in letter to her.
What a contrast to my mother's employer, who did everything he could to help her work as long as possible after being diagnosed with breast cancer. This includes hiring extra help and allowing her to work from home. During her final hospital stay, her co-workers brought food for her family to the hospital and were just an amazing source of support. Her pallbearers were co-workers, right beside her son (her employer would have done so, but had a recent quadruple bypass.) They closed the office for the day so they could all attend the funeral. They have my everlasting appreciation and admiration.
People like this nutbag oral surgeon are the reason why so many people with disabilities and illnesses are afraid to wheel out of the handicapped stall (our version of coming out of the closet.) It's an all too common topic in support groups, websites, workshops and publications for people with disabilities.
I know this fear firsthand: I worked for years after my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. I never disclosed to any employer or supervisor that I had MS. As I gradually got sicker, I found tricks & made excuses to keep my employers and co-workers from discovering my secret. Even after a terrible bout with pneumonia and a series of accidents (including burns and dislocating my thumb), I kept mum. Only when my daughter's physical therapist told me my child required more attention than a day care could be reasonably expected to provide did I finally leave the job market. In my letter of resignation, no mention of my illness was ever made.
I understand completely the fear that should your medical condition be made known, your job will disappear. At the time, being let go (or given "busy work" out of sympathy) was frightening and repulsive to me. I was certain they would treat me differently, and not in a positive way. I was very much afraid of being Too Sick To Employ. So are millions of my disabled brethren, hiding in our disabled stalls, unsure of what the impact would be if we dared wheel out. And as we see in this case, this fear is all too reasonable.
"But that's illegal! What about the ADA?" you say.
Well, you're right: it would have been illegal to fire me based on my disability. It was most definitely illegal for Dr. Nutbag to fire his cancer-fighting employee. Unfortunately, it happens with alarming frequency. [STATS]
The difference between those many cases and this one, is thus: most employers will NEVER tell you that your disease is why they are firing you/laying you off. They will find another excuse. And in states with at-will employment?They do not even have to go to the trouble of making the excuse in order to show you the door.
"But you can sue!"
Yes...if you have the money to do so. And what with medical bills and now no job, good luck finding someone who can afford it. The sad fact is that many, many disabled and temporarily ill persons cannot afford to not work. They certainly can't afford a lawyer to boot.
"But does this particular woman have a case?"
Absolutely. But only because the nutbag boss in question not only fired her for her diagnosis, but put it in writing. In his own hand. On his professional letterhead. His lawyer probably had a full-blown conniption over it. I'm talking a hire-an-exorcist-the-demons-of-dumbassery-have-clearly-taken-up-residence-in-this-doctor's-hand type conniption.
For almost everyone else, suing under the ADA for being fired due to illness or disability becomes your word against your employer's.
Dr. Nutbag contends that he fired Ms. Jumper in order to make it "easier" to apply for some sort of government assistance. The problem with that excuse is twofold:
What was she expected to live on in the (on average) three to six months before her case was approved (and that's just assuming it will be, which is not a safe assumption to make here.)
2) When did Ms. Jumper ever ASK to be fired for this sort of "help"? Dr. Nutbag never had the decency to inquire as to what her plans were or, heaven forfend, what his office could do to help.
I personally rate this "I fired her for her own good" excuse on the Bullshit Meter as being somewhere between "I thought I fed the meter" and "I had no idea that oral foreplay was considered sex, my bad."
Is it unreasonable for medical professionals to understand the particulars of the ADA?** Does Dr. Nutbag not have an office manager who would be reasonably aware of the guidelines? Or an attorney he could call to bounce off the whole "she's got cancer can I give her the boot" idea? For crying out loud, a simple Google search would have shown this man that people with cancer (or a history of it) are protected from employment discrimination by federal law!
Everything Dr. Nutbag did in this situaton shows his true colors so clearly even Cyndi Lauper could not improve upon it. He had zero regard for Ms. Jumper's condition or her needs. There were no flowers sent, no card passed around the office for co-workers to sign, no offers of help, not the courtesy of a phone call or even a Facebook status. How she felt and what she needed never crossed this man's tiny mind. His only thought when told an employee of twelve years was now fighting cancer was, "Cancer? Nope, can't work here anymore. Don't let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you!"
Not only that...he believes HE is the victim here because someone had the nerve to expose his shocking lack of empathy, his painful lack of understanding about the law, and his total absence of human decency to the world.
And this man is a doctor.
Ms. Jumper, you are in my thoughts and prayers. You deserved better. I am sorry you didn't get it from your employer. I sincerely hope you do get what you deserve: justice in a court of law, and a clean bill of health from a doctor who is far more compassionate and competent than your former employer.
Ms. Jumper's friends have set up a Facebook group to support her. It's called "Bumper's Buddies," and the people there are just wonderful. I for one am glad to see that although her boss is not at all supportive during her fight with cancer, her friends and even complete strangers from around the country are.
May G-d bless her and her family.