TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The federal government is suing a Tyler auto recycling business on behalf of an East Texas woman who claims she was illegally fired because she was undergoing cancer treatment.
According to a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Tyler, Claudia Vestal worked in the accounting department for K&L Auto Crushers. She was hired in July 2017 and functioned in various roles, including balancing bank accounts and making payroll.
The court documents claim Vestal’s termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and she is suing for back pay, emotional damages, and legal fees.
The lawsuit says in December 2018, Vestal was diagnosed with “small cell lung cancer.” She immediately notified her supervisor Andrea Wells, who is the owner of K&L Auto Crushers.
The oncologist told Vestal that she would need four to six rounds of chemotherapy, which would be completed in April 2019. Vestal and Wells agreed that she could modify her schedule to work “when she felt well enough to come into the office.”
According to the lawsuit, On January 17, 2019, Wells informed Vestal that they were adding temporary help in the office so her treatment could be finished.
Vestal sent a request asking that she be allowed to work from home during her treatment. Wells allegedly never responded to it.
The EEOC claims over the next three weeks, Vestal would send eight updates on her health to Wells. On February 6, she informed Wells that even though she would be starting another round of chemotherapy the following week, her doctor approved her to work from the office that Monday.
However, Wells responded by telling her “to stay home and wait to return until she could work a regular schedule.” The lawsuit alleges that the company fired Vestal that same day, but did not inform her of the termination.
Vestal alleges that she sent updates on her treatment until April and at “no point during this time was Ms. Vestal notified her employment had been terminated.”
On May 7, Vestal texted Wells saying she was finished with chemo and wanted to know when she could begin returning to work. Wells did not respond.
Roughly 11 days later, Vestal received a letter from the company saying her position had been eliminated. It claimed her job was filled “because of the extended time she was unable to perform any work for the company.”
Vestal filed a “charge of Discrimination” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that her firing was in violation of the ADA. The Commission ruled that it found “reasonable cause” that the company violated the law and invited the company to “join the Commission in informal methods of conciliation. This was done before the lawsuit was filed in an effort to “eliminate the unlawful employment practices and provide appropriate relief.”
However, the company refused to come to an agreement for conciliation with the commission and therefore the Commission filed a lawsuit on behalf of Vestal.
The lawsuit states that they are seeking the following damages be awarded in federal court through a jury trial:
- Appropriate back pay with prejudgment interest in amounts to be determined at trial
- Compensation for past and future losses from loss of unemployment including medical and job search expenses
- Damages for “humiliation, emotional pain and suffering, stress, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life”
- Punitive damage for the company’s “malicious and reckless conduct”
- Cost of court fees for the Commission