Denver Health employee with cancer is fired following a request to work from home during chemotherapy treatment

Employers cannot retaliate against their employees for attempting to request legitimate and reasonable accommodations related to their health.

A former employee of the Denver Health system is filing a lawsuit related to employment discrimination.

Former employee alleges retaliation and racial discrimination after being terminated

The employee who filed suit worked in Denver Health’s Human Resources Department as an employee relations investigator. While in that role, she investigated claims and complaints made by Denver Health employees concerning harassment, discrimination, and misconduct by other employees who worked within the hospital system. Denver Health is a large company that employs thousands of workers, so various workplace complaints were common considering the sheer volume of employees interacting with each other on a daily basis.

The plaintiff employee in this case is a grandmother suffering from two forms of cancer, who is also raising her two grandchildren. She was undergoing treatment, including chemotherapy and medication, for lymphoma and leukemia. Such treatments negatively affected her immune system and made her more susceptible to germs.

The federal discrimination lawsuit stems from her request to spend two to three days each week working from home to minimize the risk of infection while undergoing chemotherapy. The day after she made the request it was denied, and the day after that she was terminated from her position. Her lawsuit also alleges that other employees with similar roles had been allowed to work from home without issue. The attorney for the plaintiff stated that the actions of Denver Health are even more egregious considering this was only a temporary request from someone who is suffering from a serious illness.

There are also related claims of racial discrimination which the plaintiff feels contributed to her termination. The plaintiff herself is African-American, and she feels that African-American workers in general were being systematically mistreated by Denver Health and held to a different standard than employees of other races. Her attorney believes there may be retaliation claims involved as well, considering part of the plaintiff’s job was to point out such problems involving disparate treatment to Denver Health’s administration. If she can prove that she was fired for bring these problems to the attention of Denver Health management, she then has a legitimate retaliation claim against her ex-employer.

In response to the complaint and media attention, a statement was released by a Denver Health spokesperson. The statement simply said that Denver Health values diversity in its workforce, but no further comment can be made at this time because the matter is currently being litigated in federal court. The employer claims that the plaintiff’s termination was because of work performance, and she did admit to making a mistake in an investigation not too long before she was terminated. But, the plaintiff also states that such a mistake would not warrant dismissal under Denver Health’s own policies. Additionally, the plaintiff’s most recent performance review was positive, receiving a rating of “Successful.” She points out that other employees usually received only a verbal warning for a first mistake like the one she made.

The plaintiff acknowledges that she may be nearing her final days due to her cancer, but she wants to continue with the lawsuit to set a precedent that will protect other workers in the future.

Federal discrimination lawsuits

As a general rule, employers must have a neutral reason for decisions to terminate or discipline their employees. Factors such as race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation cannot be used, as these are categories protected under federal civil rights laws. Depending on the type of employer that is being sued, there are also relevant state and local regulations in Colorado that prevent similar forms of discrimination. An employment attorney can give advice regarding which type of lawsuit is appropriate based on the employer.

Remedies for victims of discrimination

Discrimination lawsuits will essentially try to find a remedy that puts the victim in the situation they would have been in, had the wrongful conduct by the employer never happened. Some remedies include compensation for back and future pay that were lost due to the wrongful termination, or reinstating the victim employee to a position that he or she would have been in prior to being discharged.

There are usually claims for damages available to the aggrieved employee to either compensate her, punish the employer, or both. Compensatory damages are meant to provide the plaintiff with monetary relief which covers the losses they suffered following the employer’s adverse actions, while punitive damages are meant to punish illegal and malicious behavior by the employers. In federal employment lawsuits, there are caps on the amount of damages that can be awarded based on the size of the employer, as larger employers usually have the ability to pay out greater sums.

Speak with an employment law expert in Colorado

To learn more about employment discrimination and other labor issues in the Denver area, contact Anderson Barkley Attorneys at Law. They will assist you with the process of identifying the potential employment claims you may have, filing a lawsuit against your employer, and recovering what you have lost.