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Fired Cancer Survivor Receives Record $846K in California DFEH Discrimination Lawsuit

September 21, 2011

The California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) has recently awarded a California regional sales manager the largest administrative payment ever ordered in a discrimination case, after the disabled employee was fired while recovering from cancer.

Our Carson, California employment lawyers have been following the development of Charles Wideman's case, an employee who was fired while recuperating from cancer under the pretext that he wasn't investing enough time traveling to meet customers while working for the electrical supply company, Acme Electric.

According to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, (DFEH), which represented Wideman, Acme Electric must pay a record $846,300 in the California disability discrimination lawsuit for Wideman's losses--$748,571 for lost wages, $22,729 for out of pocket expenses, $50,000 for emotional distress, and a $25,000 administrative fine to the State's General Fund for engaging in what the California commission described as deplorable conduct.

Wideman was reportedly a veteran sales manager for the electrical company, heading Acme's largest sales region from February of 2004 until March of 2008, at which point his employment was terminated at the age of 59. Wideman went through surgery for kidney cancer in 2006 and then prostate cancer in 2007, returning to work within a few weeks of both operations, but had to reduce his traveling while he underwent further cancer treatments. Wideman reportedly requested accommodation for this period of time, that went unacknowledged and was refused.

The commission stated that in 2007, while his sales region out performed all others in terms of growth, Wideman's supervisor gave him poor a performance review, claiming that he did not spent enough time making personal contact with customers, and stayed too close to his home base--leading to his dismissal in 2008.

After a three-day hearing, the DFEH found that Acme Electric violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) as the company failed in its duty to accommodate his requests for reduced travel time during his recovery from cancer, failed to engage in a good faith interactive process, engaged in disability discrimination against Wideman, and failed to take the necessary steps to prevent discrimination in the workplace. Acme claimed that the dismissal was part of an reduction of work force due to the economy, which the commission found was false, as the company immediately hired someone to replace Wideman.

Wideman claimed that he had intended to work for the company until he turned 67, in 2015, and has been unable to find a job that is comparable, and is unlikely to do so in the future. The commission stated that this entitles Wideman to lost pay during this period, based on his past salary with the company of around $106,000 per year in payment and benefits.

Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), it is against California law for employers to engage in California employment discrimination based on disability, race, religion, national origin, sex, age, pregnancy, or marital status. The FEHA also prohibits retaliation based on opposing any unlawful practice, or by filing a discrimination complaint, testifying, or assisting in any FEHA proceedings.

According to Phyllis Cheng, DFEH Director, this is a great victory for the administration that stresses the department's commitment to standing up for the rights of California employees who are victims of discrimination in the workplace.

Record award for man fired during cancer recovery, San Francisco Chronicle, September 14, 2011

State Department of Fair Employment and Housing Achieves Historic Victory, DFEH News Brief, September 12, 2011

Related Web Resources:

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)

California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC)

California Fair Employment and Housing Act, (FEHA)

Facts About the Americans with Disabilities Act

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC)

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