Cancer survivor says she was fired for medical leave

A breast cancer patient in hospital. (Reuters / Eric Gaillard)
A breast cancer patient in hospital. (Reuters / Eric Gaillard)
A breast cancer patient in hospital. (Reuters / Eric Gaillard)

After taking leave to get a mastectomy, a breast cancer survivor was fired from her job the day before she was scheduled to go back to work, allegedly because she had taken too much medical leave.

Vivienne Parra, 39, is now suing her former employer for what she considers an unjust termination. The Oceanside, Calif., woman took three weeks of leave to undergo cancer treatment and a mastectomy in 2009, followed by three more weeks when she delivered a baby.

The woman claims she went to work whenever she was physically capable of it during those six weeks. She says always gave her employer advance notice and documentation whenever she had to take medical leave.

“I put all my effort into this job and even how sick I was I came in. I didn’t have my hair, I’d come in, and I worked hard and I was pregnant; tired from day one,” Parra told NBC News.

The woman’s boss at the Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center allegedly fired her by claiming that “she no longer desired employment,” the lawsuit states.

“Employers are using the fact that their employees are on leave as a way to get rid of them,” said David Scher, Parras’ attorney.

If Parra was indeed fired for seeking breast cancer treatment, then her employer may be in violation of federal laws that protect workers with disabilities from discrimination at the workplace, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the latter of which requires employers to provide their workers with leave for personal and family reasons including illness and pregnancy.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws, conducted a three-year investigation of Parra’s case and believes that she “was discharged based on her disability in violation of the [Americans with Disabilities Act],” the agency wrote in a letter obtained by the Washington Post.

Parra’s former employer is insisting that the woman did not file the paperwork to request time off and that she had run out of days to use. R. Scott Oswald of the Employment Law Group said that the post-recession economy has increasingly prompted employers to unjustly fire their workers.

In 2005, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed 14,893 charges of disability discrimination in the US. In 2011, it filed 25,742 cases – a record high.

“I hope the managers I worked for understand all I wanted was help from them so I could pursue what I needed to do to get better,” Parra told the Post.