Cancer Survivor Receives $3M+ Jury Verdict in Discrimination Lawsuit Against Former Employer
A King County Superior Court jury has decided in favor of Linda O’Brien, a cancer survivor, who experienced discriminatory and retaliatory treatment by her former employer, an orthodontic and dental clinic with locations in Western Washington when they failed to accommodate her diagnosis and later wrongfully terminated her employment. Ms. O’Brien, who was represented by the law firm Schroeter Goldmark & Bender (SGB), received $3,263,230 in total damages.
According to the lawsuit, Ms. O’Brien was employed as a financial coordinator by Mahadeep Virk and his spouse Helena Skountrianos who own and operate Orthodontic Excellence, along with other entities related to running their orthodontic and dental care businesses in Washington and beyond.
In May 2019, while working for the defendants, Ms. O’Brien was diagnosed with breast cancer, and though she required immediate treatment, court documents outline that her oncologist advised that she could continue working, despite her diagnosis and treatment plan.
For several months, Ms. O’Brien worked hard at her full-time job while undergoing cancer treatment, without the benefit of any accommodations, as she experienced the side effects of her care. Though her employers were aware of her medical condition, which is considered a disability and a protected class under Washington law, they failed to accommodate her. Instead, her employers became openly hostile and told other employees they were going to “fire” Ms. O’Brien despite her continued efforts, according to the lawsuit.
When Ms. O’Brien eventually contracted shingles due to her compromised immune system from cancer treatments, she requested to work remotely as the condition was contagious and was particularly dangerous to her pregnant co-workers. She was told it was “ok” by the defendant – however, the next day she was terminated, the suit states.
“Linda O’Brien was a hard-working employee who continued to show up every day, fulfilling all her responsibilities while fighting a daunting cancer diagnosis. Instead of providing the accommodations she was entitled to by law, or even a hint of compassion, these employers intentionally and knowingly subjected Ms. O’Brien to a hostile work environment where they failed to recognize her disability and instead retaliated against her and then wrongfully terminated her,” said SGB attorney Elizabeth Hanley, who represented Ms. O’Brien.
“This verdict makes it clear that employers will not get away with attempting to justify wrongful terminations while blatantly discriminating against employees who are part of a protected class,” Hanley added.
The jury’s decision holds defendants Mahadeep Virk and Helena Skountrianos and several of their companies liable for discrimination against a disabled employee, failure to accommodate a disabled employee and retaliation. The jury awarded Ms. O’Brien all lost wages and future wages requested at trial, along with $2.8M in emotional distress damages.
“I am so grateful to be closing this chapter of my life, which was made only more painful by the stress and anxiety of losing my job while I was battling breast cancer,” O’Brien shared. “I hope that this outcome helps others with similar experiences and encourages employers to do the right thing, so their employees receive the support they deserve.”
For more than 50 years, SGB has represented employees against large corporations, government agencies and small businesses to protect workers from unfair treatment. In addition to individual cases, the firm is committed to pursuing wage cases on a multi-plaintiff or class-wide basis, as well.
To learn more about what sets SGB employment law attorneys apart, visit www.sgb-law.com/practice-areas/employment-law.