“Can I be fired for having a sick child?”

Question: I have been with my employer, a not-for-profit agency, since November, 2005. In June, 2009 my son was diagnosed with brain cancer. Our health insurance paid medical bills of over $2 million for his treatments. Because of the way my employer’s insurance works, my employer suffered financial setbacks because of this.

Last week I was retaliated against because of this. I was stripped of my supervisory title, demoted to the lowest position in the agency, and lowered from a pay grade 9 to a pay grade 4. I was also put on a completely unreasonable performance improvement plan (“PIP”).

I was so devastated and humiliated that I resigned the following day. All my peers knew this was done in retaliation, as I am a superb worker.

What are my options for proceeding with a lawsuit against my former employer?

Orlando, Florida

Answer: Dear Racquel: First, I would like to express my hope that your son is doing better, and that his illness will go into remission soon, if it has not already done so.

I know of no law in any state that prohibits “discrimination” against a parent for having a sick child. Anti-discrimination laws usually protect people who are in “protected categories” from being discriminated against for being in those “protected categories,” which include age, race, gender, pregnancy, national origin, etc. I know of no known “protected category” of “parent with sick child.”

However, there is a developing body of law some people call “family responsibility discrimination law” or “caregiver discrimination law” which combines elements of various existing laws, state and federal, to help people in your category: parent of sick child.

It is a kind of law being developed by creative, caring attorneys who seek to combine parts of employment law, family law, discrimination law, disability law, and civil rights law. 

This is the step-by-step argument that has been presented to courts around the nation – sometimes successfully, to help parents in your circumstances:
(1) The law in most states protects people from discrimination on the basis of marital or family status.
(2) The federal Family Medical Leave Act law protects people who want to take time off to attend to the medical needs of family members.
(3) A powerful, natural part of being a mother or a father is the desire to take care of your children.
(4) Surely, employers cannot expect a mother or father not to take care of their sick children.
(5) Surely, employers should not be permitted to act against mothers or fathers who do.
(6) Our laws should protect parents who help their children.   

This legal and common sense reasoning is slowly catching on in more and more states, and apparently in Florida, too. I would recommend you speak with attorneys who are familiar with this exciting new and developing trend in the law.

You might start by contacting The Amlong  Law Firm, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at (954) 462-1983. On their website [www.theamlongfirm.com] they describe themselves as “Family Responsibility Discrimination Lawyers.”

If anyone deserves to be treated fairly at work, it is you. I will pray for your son.

           Best, Al Sklover

©  2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.