Ohio woman sues ex-employer after cancer battle

Ohioan says she was fired after breast cancer battle, sues ex-employer alleging discrimination

Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) -- An Ohio woman who says she was fired after missing three months of work during treatment for breast cancer has sued her former employer and its managing partner, accusing them of discriminating against her and violating federal law.

Jeanine Gaver of Waynesville, about 35 miles northeast of Cincinnati, accuses Digestive Specialists and her supervisor, Dr. Ramesh Gandhi, of violating the Family and Medical Leave Act by denying her the same job or its equivalent after she missed work during her treatment, which included the removal of both breasts.

Gaver, 58, said Digestive Specialists took her off health insurance and offered her a job with fewer hours when she got well enough to work after the double mastectomy, saying they had found someone else for her job. Eventually, Gaver said, she was fired.

Digestive Specialists, Gandhi and their attorney did not immediately return calls for comment Wednesday.

Gandhi left Digestive Specialists and is involved in separate litigation with the Kettering company; he's now working as a gastroenterologist at Miami Valley Hospital in Centerville. They have not yet responded to the lawsuit, and no trial date has been scheduled.

Gaver's lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Dayton, is seeking about $1.7 million for lost wages, and pain and suffering.

The lawsuit says Digestive Specialist's and Gandhi's "discriminatory and irrational conduct was so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond all bounds of decency and must be considered utterly intolerable in a civilized community."

Gaver "suffered severe mental and physical anguish that no reasonable person could be expected to endure," the lawsuit said.

Gaver had worked at Digestive Specialists as its radiology manager for 3½ years when her yearly mammogram revealed in June 2011 that she had an aggressive breast cancer.

She was approved for three months of medical leave, worked up until four days before her surgery and continually asked supervisors whether anyone needed to be trained to cover her job while she was gone, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says no one responded until the day before her surgery on Aug. 8, 2011, when Gandhi called her eight times, "becoming increasingly angry, harassing and intimidating with each phone call and demanding that Gaver come in to the office to train her temporary replacement."

She did not go in, citing conditions of her medical leave that prohibited her from working.

About a month after her surgery, the lawsuit says, Gandhi violated federal privacy laws by sending an email to everyone at the office complaining that some employees were using too much health insurance and saying that would raise the company's premiums significantly. Attached to the email was an insurance company's confidential report about Gaver's breast cancer, showing she had used about $83,500 in benefits, the lawsuit said.

When Gaver was ready to return to work in October 2011, she was told her position was no longer available but that she could return in a subordinate position for a few days a week and without health insurance, the lawsuit said.

At the time, the suit said, Gaver didn't know that under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers are required to return workers to their same or an equivalent position after their medical leave is over.

Worried about not having health insurance, Gaver asked whether she could get unemployment benefits if she was laid off.

Soon after that, Gaver said, she was fired.

While Digestive Specialist's attorney did not return a call for comment, Gaver's Dayton attorney, Jill Mead, said the company's position is that Gaver was not fired.

Gaver told The Associated Press this week that she is doing well physically but that the situation has taken a financial toll.

She said she gets about $1,000 a month in unemployment benefits, which goes toward paying for health insurance. She has been unable to find another job.

"I'm about to lose everything," she said, adding that she hopes others learn from her case. "I really didn't know what rights I had."

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Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP

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