SEATTLE — A breast cancer survivor who was wrongfully fired from her job has won in a King County court.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019,” said Linda O’Brien.
Two months later, O’Brien would find out it was stage four breast cancer. Her oncologist said she could continue to work full-time as a financial coordinator for two doctors, Mahadeep Virk and Helena Skountrianos who own Orthodontic Excellence and other clinics across western Washington.
“I didn't have to have chemo, I didn't have to have surgery or radiation. I take a couple of pills, we starved off the cancer,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien continued to work full-time while undergoing treatment.
“I did that to try to take the least amount of time off from work as possible, so not to disrupt the practice,” she said.
The lawsuit says after her diagnosis, O’Brien’s employers became hostile and even told other employees they were going to fire her.
In October 2019, O’Brien had shingles due to a weakened immune system from treatment and asked to work from home to protect a pregnant co-worker. Two days later, she was fired via email.
“I lost a group of people that I thought were supporting me. I am a single woman. I don't have anybody else's income to fall back on. It was a very, very scary place to be,” O’Brien said.
She also lost her health insurance. O’Brien knew she was wrongfully terminated.
“I didn't want to go into litigation, but I couldn't sit by and let somebody treat me as if I didn't matter because I do matter. We all matter,” O’Brien said.
That’s where Elizabeth Hanley, an attorney for Schroeter Goldmark & Bender stepped in and filed a discrimination suit.
“These laws are really critical because most people at some point in their working careers, especially since people are working longer are going to have some sort of illness,” Hanley said.
Hanley said, unfortunately, cases like Linda’s are common.
“Even if you have a serious illness or something that's affecting you, you have the right to still have a full life,” Hanley said.
Hanley said if you find yourself facing a serious illness, notify your employer and if they offer accommodations, work with them, but she said most importantly there are state laws that protect workers who file discrimination suits.
“If an employee raises a case of discrimination like Linda did, other employers are never allowed to retaliate against them or deny them employment opportunities,” Hanley said.
This week a jury sided with O’Brien and awarded her $3,263,230 in total damages.
“For a King County jury to say 'Look, no, this was a perfectly high-functioning employee who was doing her job and according to evidence was doing it really well.' We’re going to tell your employer this is a person of value. That does a lot in terms of restoring someone’s belief they are valuable,” said Hanley.
“The fact that they deliberated for 90 minutes tells you they knew what was right and what was wrong. They chose to do the right thing and that was wonderful. I'm so grateful for each and every one of them for doing that for me,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien hopes her story will help others come forward.
“Don't lose faith, and stand up for yourself because you're worth it. Everybody's worth it,” O’Brien said.
A representative for O'Brien's former employer provided this statement to KING 5:
"We are disappointed in the 10-2 jury verdict in this case. We continue to maintain that my clients did not discriminate against Ms. O’Brien based on her cancer in any way and are considering our legal options going forward. We have no further comment at this time."