Electrical company fined after firing cancer patient

SACRAMENTO - The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on Monday announced its largest-ever administrative award of $846,300 against electrical supplier Acme Electric Corporation for firing an employee because he had cancer.Charles Richard Wideman worked for Acme Electric as western regional sales manager overseeing sales operations in the company's largest territory from February 2004 to March 2008. He developed kidney cancer in 2006 and prostate cancer in 2007. The cancers required two surgeries and numerous cancer-related outpatient appointments. According to the DFEH, the company immediately granted his two requests for time off for surgery and recuperative leave. However, Wideness requested further accommodation for the travel limitation his cancers caused from June 2006 through April 2007. Acme Electric allegedly refused to grant or "even acknowledge these accommodation requests," authorities said. Instead, in December 2007, Wideman's supervisor gave him an unfavorable performance evaluation, criticizing him for insufficient travel. On Feb. 28, 2008, Acme Electric fired Wideman, relying on the insufficient travel pretext. "California's Fair Employment and Housing Act provides that persons with disabilities, such as cancer, must be reasonably accommodated, so that they can continue to work productively," said DFEH director Phyllis Cheng. "This historic administrative victory underscores the department's commitment to vindicating the rights of Californians victimized by workplace discrimination." After a three-day hearing, the state's Fair Employment and Housing Commission found Acme Electric violated the FEHA by failing to accommodate Wideman's known travel limitation due to his cancers, failing to engage in good faith interactive process, discriminating against Wideman because of his disability, and failing to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination from occurring. To compensate Wideman for his losses, the commission awarded him $748,571 for lost wages, $22,729 for out-of-pocket expenses and $50,000 for emotional distress. In addition, the commission ordered Acme to pay $25,000 to the state's general fund as an administrative fine. Acme must further comply with posting, policy changes and training requirements ordered by the commission.

********** Published: September 15, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 22