Cancer-stricken teacher assistant fired for missing work
A North Carolina woman has been fired from her job as teacher assistant because her former employer says cancer treatments caused her to miss too many days of work.
Donna Sotomayor took leave from River Bend Elementary School in Raleigh to receive six chemotherapy treatments and 33 radiation treatments after being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in January 2010.
Even after returning to work in October of 2010 Sotomayor continued to miss work due to infection and other problems.
Then in November of last year, doctors informed her that the cancer had spread to her spine.
“I have a family,” Sotomayor told WRAL. “I have a lot to live for. And when my doctor tells me, ‘You have to go out and go through treatment immediately,’ then yeah, I’m going to do that.”
Although she had years of glowing work evaluations, Principal Lois Hart recommended that she be fired. She had been employed by River Bend Elementary School since 2004.
“She was always friendly and supportive, and I don’t know what changed,” Sotomayor recalled. “They said they need someone there who was reliable. Apparently, I wasn’t reliable. I was sick.”
Human resources informed her that she lacked about 50 hours of work to qualify for Family Medical Leave, giving her the option to resign or be fired.
“Talk about getting kicked when you’re down, and it really shocked me because I did not see it coming at all,” she explained.
Wake County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Stephen Gainey told WRAL that he wished the case “never came across my desk.”
“The problem becomes, if you start holding jobs indefinitely, you wind up with, you’d be amazed how long, how quickly you’d get holes all over your school system,” Gainey insisted. “It is a tough thing to manage.”
As a final blow, the school system claimed she had been overpaid and deducted $1,400 from her short-term disability account.
“It’s hard enough, you’re going through cancer treatment trying to fight for your life,” Sotomayor said.
The former assistant teacher is now considering suing the Wake County Public School System for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Watch this video from WRAL, broadcast Feb. 27, 2012.