A Chicago woman learned just what kind of people her employers were when her cancer diagnosis led to her dismissal.

Elisa Madonia had worked for S37, a property management firm, for over four years when she was abruptly fired by the Chicago based company. It was her performance or attitude that was the problem, it was her health. Just a day after learning the worst news of her life, Madonia says her doctors sent her employer a letter letting them know that she would need intermittent but significant time off during her battle with stage three esophageal cancer. Less than two hours later, her boss summoned her to the office and asked that she resign. When she refused, they terminated her.

Madonia says she was stunned.

“Not only I’m being hit with a disease, that I have cancer, now you take my job too away from me?” said Madonia.

It’s not uncommon for doctors to send letters to the employers and family members of people suffering from life-threatening diseases. In Madonia’s case, the letter was meant to help explain to them the importance of the time off. Madonia would be undergoing chemo, radiation, and surgery and would likely need a long time to recover as she fought for her life. Instead, the employers seemed not willing to work around that struggle.

Eugune Hollander, Madonia’s attorney told CBS Chicago that employer’s have a duty – legal and moral – to work with their employees with a serious illness.

“I think they had an obligation to sit down with Elise and say, hey, what can we do here? Can you work three days a week? Can you telecommute for some period of time? Instead of the knee jerk reaction of firing her on the spot. That’s illegal,” said Eugene Hollander, Madonia’s attorney.

It’s for that reason that Madonia has filed a lawsuit against her former employer for discriminating against her disability. Despite the legal battle, Madonia tries to remain focused on her much more important battle with cancer.

S37′s attorney declined to comment.

The company may have made a mistake by not sticking by their longtime employee. As of this writing, their Yelp page had 10 reviews and the full 10 of them were negative. While a few were from former tenants who complained about the company’s treatment of their renters, many were from people who vowed never to do business with a company who would treat their employees this way.

It’s a sad fact that S37 isn’t alone in its cold pragmatism when dealing with ill employees. Wal-mart recently settled a lawsuit with a former employee that alleged that the retail giant refused to accommodate a 12-year employee who had been recovering from cancer and wasn’t able to work in his previous capacity. When he asked to be reassigned, they fired him. The move ended up costing the company $275,000 after he took them to court.

The problem is so common in fact that the health advocacy website CommonHealth has an entire section on how to break the news to your boss that you have cancer without getting fired.

Consumers have shown that they have little patience for employers who treat their employees that way. It’s not enough to have good products or low prices, how you behave towards the ones who work for you makes a difference. S37 may have learned that lesson the hard way.

Watch the interview with Madiona courtesy of CBS Chicago here.



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