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)

Photo: Courtesy of darktaco, stock.xchng


go G.
C. G6 years ago


Ed G.
Ed G6 years ago

THis is one of the big reasons we need healthcare reform in the US. The fact that a health care company did something like this is horendess and I hope they get taken to the cleaners for firing the woman. This is so typical of republicans they screw their freinds and neighbors and employess to make a buck.

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman6 years ago

noted :0

Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

While very sad for the child, this is the reality; and for those who think it will be better under Obamacare, and with the Federal government stealing your retirement funds as they've done to thousands of us now on Social Security, which is WHY it's broke, not because WE used up the funds, you might want to seriously rethink your positions. Yes having those tied to your employer is NOT a good thing, but neither is being at the mercy of the government. That's why we need SENSIBLE, patient-centered reform, which Obamacare most assuredly is NOT. And that law encompasses so many other things that have nothing to do with health care at all as well, which are geared to control our lives and nothing more or less than that. But this company had every right to fire a person it found unable to do the job for which she was hired, and find someone who could do that job, and cancer is NOT a disability; it's a disease, often terminal because of the manner in which it's treated under modern medicine, but a disease not a disability, and should not fall under the ADA in any way.

Norm C.
Norm C6 years ago

One of the problems here, other than an abusive employer, is that far too many "benefits" are tied to employment. And in far too many cases the cost of those "benefits" is paid partly or mostly by the employer. In almost every case, it is the employer who makes critical decisions regarding the "benefits."

Health, disability, dental insurance, pensions, etc. must be freed from the control of employers. Employers should contribute to the cost, but they should not be the sole contributor, and most importantly, they should not control the administration of benefits. If the employer is the sole contributor, it is almost always going to look on the value of the benefit as theirs to use if business turns sour.

That is what caused so many to lose their pension plans beginning in the 80s as employers raided pensions and substituted junk bonds for valuable assets and then dropped the plans when the junk turned out to be junk and left the plan impossibly underfunded.

The same thing happens with health benefits every year when insurance companies send them the new bill. Deductibles are raised to absurd levels or more and more of the cost gets passed on the employee. As a last resort the employer starts looking for ways to cut the sick from the plan.

The solution is to make benefits standard, tranferable and run by an independent agent. That could be the govt. or it could be a regulated trustee. The employee and the employer simply pay into it. The trustee pays for services.

Sherry D.
Sherry D6 years ago

This is just one of the many reasons America needs health care reform. The greedy could care less if you die.

As we all know, instead of working to find bipartisan solutions to create jobs, Republicans in Congress are re-fighting the political debates of the last two years by trying to repeal the new health care law and give control over your health care back to the insurance companies.
The Republicans’ repeal bill will let the insurance companies deny care to people with pre-existing conditions and return us to the days of "anything-goes" premium rate hikes that are crushing consumers and businesses. The republicans are saying thay won the house in the last election due to the fact people do not want health care reform. Nothing could be farther from the truth. That election showed a knee jerk reaction to our high unemployment. We are all now paying the price for that knee jerk reaction. Polls show favorably for health care reform, no more being denied and medical costs will soon be in check. The republicans are wasting precious tax dollars beating a dead horse. Health Care reform has already been written into law. If the republicans do not stop the war on our president, and start working to better America, they will show they are not wanted in the white house. Their love for the top 2% and insurance lobbyists have seriously damaged our country.

Deanne P.
Deanne Perry6 years ago

I am so glad I live in Australia. The idea that your insurance disappears when you lose your job is crazy.

Trish K.
Trish K6 years ago

Uphold National Healthcare
Call your senators and representatives

Deborah L.
Deborah L6 years ago

Expect to see a lot more of this now that they have the human genome project and other methods to know about preexisting conditions before you are born now a days. Gives employers another reason not to hire someone, insure a person and other ways in which to blackmail people from achieving a good life.

April Thompson
April Thompson7 years ago

So wrong! Make them give that little girl the financial support she needs and deserves!