Lots of workers pour their hearts and souls into their work, but it's the rare employee who actually surrenders an organ to save a boss's life. But that's exactly what Debbie Stevens (pictured at left) did last year, and now the onetime secretary is challenging her former employer for firing her shortly after the operation was complete.
The 47-year-old mother agreed two years ago to donate a kidney to her boss, Jackie Brucia, 61, a controller at Atlantic Automotive Group, who needed an organ transplant, the New York Post reports. Stevens, of Long Island, agreed to do so "because she was naturally a kind and generous person," according to a legal complaint filed Friday with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
Stevens agreed to be a possible kidney donor during a meeting that the women had after Stevens left Brucia's employ in 2010 and moved to Florida, according to the agency filing. Brucia, who had thought she had secured another, suitable donor, told Stevens, "'You never know, I may have to take you up on that offer one day,' " the papers say.
Stevens wasn't in Florida long before she decided to move back to Long Island and asked Brucia for her job back. She was working again within weeks, the newspaper reports.
Two months later, Brucia reminded Stevens of her earlier offer, after noting that the other donor fell through. Brucia asked Stevens if her offer was sincere. Stevens said it was. "It's just who I am," Stevens reportedly said. "I didn't want her to die."
Stevens now views Brucia's offer of re-employment as a cunning way to secure a backup donor in case her likely donor didn't work out, according to the Human Rights commission filing.
As it turned out, Stevens wasn't an ideal match for Brucia, but Stevens' willingness to donate a kidney helped push Brucia up the waiting list, netting her another donor who was a good match.
"I felt I was giving her life back," Stevens told the Post. "My kidney ended up going to St. Louis, Mo., and hers came from San Francisco."
It was after each woman's surgeries last August that Brucia began showing a darker side, according to the complaint.
Organ transplant surgery requires extensive recovery time, but Stevens alleges that she felt pressured to return to work in September -- less than a month after the surgery -- even as Brucia was still recuperating at home.
According to the newspaper, Stevens went home sick three days after her return to work. That didn't sit well with Brucia who, while still convalescing at home, called Stevens to berate her.
"She ... said, 'What are you doing? Why aren't you at work?' I told her I didn't feel good," Stevens told the Post. "She said, 'You can't come and go as you please. People are going to think you're getting special treatment.' "
Stevens said such treatment continued after Brucia returned to work, with the boss yelling at Stevens in front of co-workers for supposed errors.
Eventually, Stevens says, she was demoted to another car dealership and subsequently fired.
In addition to the complaint filed with the Human Rights commission, Stevens is also pursuing a court challenge for her dismissal.
As for Brucia, she declined to return calls, and Atlantic Automotive Group didn't return a request for comment.
The Post notes that Brucia apparently is doing just fine months after the surgery, reporting that she was spotted outside her home Friday, "getting into a limo with plastic cups and what appeared to be a bottle of pink champagne."
As for Stevens, she says that Brucia "took my heart" but has no regrets about becoming an organ donor. The Post quotes her as saying, "I have no regrets [that] I donated a kidney because it saved the life of a man in Missouri."
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