Feds Sue Employer Over Cancer Patient’s Rights
While fighting brain cancer, she was fired from her job with a health care company.
When the 43 year-old mother died, her orphaned daughter was left without life insurance money because her parents’ policies were through her former employer.
According to an article in Startribune.com, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is now suing health care company Maxim on behalf of Anne Whitledge’s estate, accusing the company of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Maxim said Whitledge’s firing was legally justified because she was unable to perform her job and was a “direct threat” to the health and safety of herself or others. It is unclear how Mrs. Whitledge posed a threat.
Whitledge received her diagnosis at the end of 2007 but continued working for about another year before taking an eight-week medical leave. Unable to get her employers to respond to her request to return to duty, she was ultimately fired during a conference call. Eight months after that, her husband died of a heart attack. Anne Whitledge sucumbed to cancer ten months later.
The EEOC wants to recover life insurance and back pay, along with compensatory and punitive damages up to $300,000 on behalf Whitledge’s 10 year-old daughter.
The case points out the employment and health care issues of cancer patients and others with illnesses or disabilities. Talk about being kicked while you’re down… and by a health care company. This is a case to watch.
Cancer patients are battling on more than one front. The House today voted to repeal the Patient Affordable Care Act, a piece of legislation that has a huge impact on people living with cancer.
Christopher W. Hansen, president of ACS CAN, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, released this statement:
“Repealing the law without a meaningful alternative would bring back pre-existing condition exclusions, annual and lifetime benefit limits, rescissions of health coverage following a diagnosis and other vestiges of a health system that failed to provide adequate, affordable health care to millions of cancer patients and survivors.
“The Affordable Care Act includes provisions that ban pre-existing condition exclusions and arbitrary rescissions of coverage, eliminate lifetime limits, annual limits and the ability of insurance companies to charge more based on an applicant’s health status, and refocus the health care system on disease prevention and early detection. These and other patient protections need to be implemented and strengthened to meaningfully improve the health care system for people with cancer.
“The evidence is clear that barriers to health care lead to later-stage cancer diagnoses, which are more expensive to treat and harder to survive. Cancer patients should not be forced to choose between saving their life or their lifesavings – a proposition that many of them faced in a system that previously made access to adequate, affordable care impossible for tens of millions of Americans.
“ACS CAN is calling on the Senate and the President to uphold the critical patient protections included in this important law that collectively work to expand access to quality health care for cancer patients, survivors and their families.”
Cancer in the Workplace
About 40 percent of the more than one million Americans diagnosed with some form of cancer each year are working-age adults, and nearly 10 million Americans have a history of cancer.
Even with the ADA, people with cancer still experience barriers to equal job opportunities due to supervisors’ and co-workers’ misconceptions about their ability to work during and after cancer treatment. Even with a good prognosis, some employers fear long absences from work or a patient’s inability to focus. Most working-age cancer survivors do return to work and enjoy the same productivity rates as other workers. (Source: EEOC)
When is Cancer a Disability Under the ADA?
When it or its side effects substantially limit one or more of a person’s major life activities. Even when the cancer itself does not substantially limit any major life activity, it can lead to the occurrence of other impairments that may be disabilities. For example, sometimes depression may develop as a result of the cancer, the treatment for it, or both. Where the condition lasts long enough (i.e., for more than several months) and substantially limits a major life activity, such as interacting with others, sleeping, or eating, it is a disability within the meaning of the ADA.
Cancer also may be a disability because it was substantially limiting some time in the past. Cancer is a disability when it does not significantly affect a person’s major life activities, but the employer treats the individual as if it does. The determination of whether an individual currently has, has a record of, or is regarded as having a disability is made on a case-by-case basis. (Source: EEOC)
In 2008, the President signed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act, which made changes to the definition of the term “disability” in order to make it easier for individuals to establish disability.
The EEOC enforces the employment provisions of the ADA.
Any person who believes that his or her employment rights have been violated on the basis of disability and wants to make a claim against an employer must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. A third party also may file a charge on behalf of another person claiming to be aggrieved. (Source: EEOC)