Va. Woman Fired Twice In Battle To Beat Breast Cancer

Connie Robinson has beaten breast cancer but these days feels like a loser because taking time off from work to treat the disease led to her being fired -- twice.

Robinson first learned that she had breast cancer in October 2009, when she was working for an undisclosed Richmond, Va.-area organization as an employment specialist, a TV station there reports. But in mid-December, just as she was winding up chemotherapy, she received a letter from her employer telling her that the leave she was granted under the Family and Medical Leave Act had run its course.

"I worked even when I was sick and it's like it didn't matter," Robinson told WTVR. "You don't matter."

Under FMLA, employees at firms with 50 or more workers can take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to recover from illnesses that prevent them from working, and still return to their jobs.

It's unclear how Robinson managed to use up 12 weeks of leave in the time from her diagnosis in October to her dismissal on Dec. 14. Robinson's attorney, Harris Butler III, didn't return calls from AOL Jobs seeking comment. It also isn't clear whether Robinson is suing or plans to sue her former employer.

Robinson's love for her job made her dismissal all the more difficult. It was her "dream job," she said, and now someone else has it.

Within a few months of her dismissal, Robinson, at the urging of her former employer, found a part-time position at a local nonprofit, the name of which also wasn't disclosed. But in May 2010, Butler found another lump in her breast and had to undergo surgery and chemotherapy.

By fall, she was once again cancer-free, but her job, a temporary position, had been filled. Robinson once again found herself unemployed.

Robinson's predicament raises questions about whether existing regulations are sufficient to protect workers dealing with serious illness.

Butler, who specializes in employment law, told WTVR that protections granted workers under FMLA as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act give them some job security, but not enough. Further, Virginia has no statutes to protect such patients, according to the Richmond TV station.

"If the employer wants to let you go, there's not a whole lot you can do about it," Butler said.

Employers are under no obligation to go beyond the time frame stipulated under the law, said Frank Alvarez, a partner at Jackson Lewis, a White Plains, N.Y.-based employment-law firm that represents management.

After employees have exhausted leave granted them under FMLA, it's possible that they may be entitled to additional time off under ADA, but only to deal with their own serious illness -- such as cancer.

In Robinson's case, it's possible that the employer analyzed its obligations under ADA and concluded it had none, said Alvarez, who isn't involved in the matter.

In an interview with AOL Jobs, Alvarez said that there is no "bright line" for when ADA might kick in. Rather, the law requires an "individualized assessment of whether additional job protected leave is a reasonable accommodation in that particular circumstance," he said.

Other factors to be considered include whether the time off requested under ADA is definite or indefinite and the extent to which the employee's absence will impact the company's operations.

Both ADA and FMLA have provisions that allow workers to contest dismissals should they feel their employers have fired them illegally, Alvarez said. Depending upon circumstance, employees have two or three years to appeal their discharges under FMLA, while ADA grants workers 180 or 300 days for appeal.

Butler said that the window may be too short for many patients who find it difficult to file such claims while still recovering from illness.

Robinson was unable to appeal either of her discharges because she waited too long to file her claims, according to WTVR.

Still, her advice to workers with cancer who fear losing their jobs as she did is to stay focused on beating the disease. "Go through your treatment, fight through the cancer," Robinson said. "And then fight for your life."

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In many cases, companies are financially motivated to cast off employees who will likely cause their group hospitalization costs to increase substantially.

May 24 2012 at 4:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I lost my position of an office manager 140,000. yearly I broke my leg and had to have a knee and pin put in two weeks after my surgery I received a letter telling me I was fired because of extended time off I even had permission everyone knew I was going to be off 2 months, received flowers and cards even my vacation and two weeks sick pay!! Yep even after 15 years they will do it to you now they are suffering because they cannot find anyone to work like I did and twice hired theifs!! sorry now Ihave to deal with unemployment

May 24 2012 at 1:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is the corporate american way, kick someone when they are down and can't defend themselves, hopefully they get their day of reckoning in the end and have to reap their heartless actions!

May 23 2012 at 11:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Have a friend who was let go this week after 10 years of service due to employer-FMLA games. He fell in the middle of a cafeteria, carrying a tray. He fell over a kid's book bag that was in the middle of the floor. Broke both knees. While he was recovering from surgery FMLA was up and he was terminated. The day he was terminated he lost his long term disability. They sent him a letter, 3 weeks after, letting him know this. He has gotten an attorney to sort it out. I feel for this lady.

May 23 2012 at 8:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the current law does a pretty good job at balancing the needs of the employer and the needs of the employee. I used FMLA when I had a child and when I had cancer. Never had a problem. I do know some people who get the intermitten leave and totally abuse it and then when something really happens they are out of time. Not saying you can't legit run out of time, just saying as with all things people can abuse it.

May 23 2012 at 7:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Now this woman has my sympathy. And I mean it. Her employers are jerks!

May 23 2012 at 7:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hard to say about the first job since we only hear one side of it, but it raises question to me when her attorney won't return calls to answer questions. As for the second job, how was she fired? The article states that it was a part-time temporary position. Someone else was hired for the full-time permanent position, not her, but that is not being fired.

May 23 2012 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tom's comment

Doesn't matter that all details aren't written. Main problem is Virginia does not have their own laws regarding these federal statutes. The question now is would she have been entitled to additional time under ADA which is tricky since they follow federal statute and it appears the employer can make that decision at their own discretion. As for the second temporary position, that is questionable since it was a temporary job -- No less part time.

May 23 2012 at 7:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

She used up her FMLA. What is the company supposed to do continue to go without an employee? Continue to hold a job for you when they need help now? I don't think so. This happens all the time. You can't return on time from FMLA the company hires someone new. Before the days of FMLA she would have been fired sooner.

May 23 2012 at 5:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Gary's comment
Tweetie Pie

I think there was a discrepancy as to whether she did the whole 12 weeks. Also, this is unpaid leave. No reason an employer can't hire a temp while she's away. I was discriminated against for my Bipolar Disorder, even though my boss had received 4 letters from my psych. about stress exacerbating the problem. I had to tell the boss that he needed to back off because he was making me sicker. Believe it or not, the union was on my side, as well as the EEO folk. I could have asked for a settlement, but all I wanted to do was to be able to make up work hours if I missed. Others had been allowed to. So, I was not getting the same treatment as others who were not sick. I think she has a case. A complicated one, but I think federal regulations trump the state statutes.

May 23 2012 at 11:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

FMLA...people need to understand what this program is and then use it for instances like this.

May 23 2012 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That is what we called: the dictature of Profit,
Where is the democracy, with rights and duties,
Now , in corporate America, which rules this country for only profit,which is ready to do anything to maximise it, including invadind other countries, leaving millions in the streets with no job, no food, no home, and crying for help when they are in trouble,
what a beautiful country they have built, ..the less democratic of the free world.

May 23 2012 at 3:26 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to WE LOVE YOU MOM's comment

If you can't produce you are out, simple as that. Companies are not in business to provide jobs, but to make a profit. if they can't make a profit they close down and even more people are without a job.

May 23 2012 at 5:52 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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