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A Settlement Doesn't Mean It Didn't Happen

Are you being discriminated against? Flat out discrimination is obvious and easy to identify. But what is perception discrimination?

Even when I was sick, I was a team player

Years ago, I worked full time and rarely called in sick; I was a team player.

When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, my treatment side effects were manageable. I continued to work full time. I only took off a couple FMLA protected days every few months for my quarterly scans, oncology appointments, and the occasional treatment and disease side effects. My time away and days off were actually less than my “healthy” coworkers were taking.

But why does she need extra help?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for certain family and medical reasons.

I pulled my own. But my stamina was questioned and my supervisors acted almost surprised when I asked for additional work on days with lighter workloads. I overheard management and coworkers commenting on my job performance. “Why does she need extra help? Why can't she do as much as the other workers?”, when, in fact, I was.

I was perceived as "too well" for my stage IV lung cancer diagnosis.

Denied reasonable accommodation

My boss doubted my need for reasonable accommodation because, in his words, "She doesn't look or act sick at work." Reasonable accommodation is any change to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done that allows an individual with a disability to perform their job functions.

Fighting discrimination and cancer stereotypes

Before I had first-hand knowledge of cancer, my perception was, if you had cancer, you were frail, weak and bald. Stage IV meant hospice and the patient would die in a matter of weeks or days. I now know, first hand, those are stereotypes.

As much as I tried to educate the higher-ups and my coworkers about my disease and treatments, they still attached my lung cancer diagnosis and treatments to that stereotypical cancer patient perception they had before my diagnosis. I was at work. I didn't fit the bill of a perceived, stereotypical, stage IV cancer patient.

Filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint

This perceived discrimination leads to harassment and emotional anguish. It was exhausting to constantly explain my disease and treatments. It was difficult to hear myself being compared to others without the physical and sometimes mental limitations my lung cancer and treatments caused.

I filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint. My case went to mediation. The harassment continued. I filed a second complaint. But before we could go to a hearing, where I would have been awarded a six-figure amount for compensatory damages, I had a stroke and was unable to return to work.

Sometimes a settlement isn't enough

I wanted them to admit their words and actions were unethical and illegal. I pursued the case until being advised by my lawyer to consider a settlement outside of court. Since I could no longer perform my work duties due to the stroke, I accepted a very minimal settlement amount to save myself from added stress, wasted energy, and attorney's fees. But a settlement doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or I will ever forget.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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