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Unusual PA FMLA claim filed by a third party

A lawsuit filed in federal court claims that cancer specialist surgeon Dr. Kevin Staveley-O'Carroll was fired because he complained that center officials at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Centel mistreated his secretary after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The case is unusual in that it could help clarify under what circumstances a third party - someone who was not seeking leave for him- or herself - can sue for an unfair retaliatory firing.

The suit, which does not identify the name of the secretary, alleges that she had requested unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to grant medical leave of up to 12 weeks when suffering from a medical issue.

The circumstances of the case arose when the secretary requested leave after her surgery under the FMLA to recuperate. The secretary believed she could work until the surgery. However, she had difficulty concentrating before the leave began. Dr. Staveley-OCarroll said that he was eager to accommodate reasonable requests such as frequent work breaks because cancer patients can have instrusive thoughts of "death and disfigurement." Surgery department leaders refused to give her such breaks, the lawsuit claims.

Dr. Staveley-O'Connell then allegedly complained both verbally and in writing that his secretary was being mistreated and subject to a hostile work environment. He then claims, in response to his complaints, that the department chairman threatened to fire him. When another instance allegedly arose involving another surgeon who suffered a hostile work environment because of taking leave under the FMLA, Dr. Staveley-O'Connell again filed a complaint.

In response, the suit alleges he was told that he was being terminated. The hospital denies any wrongdoing.

While the outcome of the case is still unclear, it is a violation of federal law to fire an employee on the basis of taking a medical leave of absence covered under the FMLA. Workers who believe they have been fired on this basis should consult with an experienced employment law attorney to discuss potential legal action, including obtaining reinstatement to the position and back pay.

Source: The Patriot-News, "Cancer surgeon claims he was fired from Hershey Medical Center for defending ill co-worker," Matt miller, June 21, 2013