Chick-Fil-A may promote itself as a Christian, family-friendly restaurant chain, but that only seems to apply when the company is finding ways to express hatred for gay people. While we’re sure the company offered prayers and other meaningless expressions, what the chicken joint did to a breast cancer survivor while she was on leave might make baby Jesus cry a little bit.
Colorado Chick-Fil-A employee Daphne Richards, a divorced mother of two, was drawn in by the “family-friendly” values and promises of great benefits and opportunities for advancement.
“I lived in Indiana my entire life, and I relocated for this job,” said Richards. “I could move up the ladder, and the owner told me ‘Maybe someday, you could own your own store.”
Richards has been working at the Larkridge Chick-Fil-A since late last year. In May, however, she received terrifying news. “I had double breast cancer in both breasts,” she said. She took leave for a necessary bilateral mastectomy. But when she was about to return to work, saddled with expensive medical bills, she was hit with even more bad news — this time from her employer.
Store owner Barrie Goettsche told Richards she was receiving a demotion and a pay cut.
“She said,’I no longer have a full-time management position for you, and you will no longer be receiving healthcare benefits after September,'” said Richards. “She said something about reconstructing or reconfiguring the business.”
The cancer survivor’s hours were cut from more than 40 to 10-15 per week, and her wages were reduced by $4 per hour — and Richards is certain that the company chose to discriminate against her.
“What else could it be?” said Richards. “I’m receiving my bills now from my surgery. They’re astronomical. I’m wondering, ‘Is this raising her premiums? Is she worried about the future surgeries?'”
Richards has filed a discrimination lawsuit with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. “I know that this is morally wrong,” she said. “I believe in my heart that it can’t be legal what she’s doing to me.”
And she’s right — Colorado law prohibits terminating someone because of a disability. While she was not technically terminated, ABC 7 notes that a case like Richards’ might be considered a “constructive discharge,” where an employer makes things so difficult on a victim that he or she is left with no choice but to resign against his or her will.
The store’s attorney tells a different story — Richards was demoted with severely reduced wages for her own good! Fredrick Schaefer claims that, “For this company, when tragedy struck, they stepped up. “Even though she didn’t qualify for continuing benefits during her work hiatus under the Family Medical Leave Act, the store continued to pay for her health insurance coverage during her medical leave.”
He says that Richards was “offered” reduced hours because the store owner was “was concerned about the effect of a full-time workload after traumatic surgery.” After Richards’ situation began to draw some attention, however, he says the store is willing to offer her 30-35 hours per week at severely reduced pay.
He also claimed that she had multiple writeups — a claim that is invalidated by a letter of commendation Richards received just before she took her leave of absence.
“Daphne is a very sensitive, loving and compassionate person,” the letter read, in part. “I know she will continue to be a valuable asset and resource to the restaurant as she gains more experience, responsibility and time under her belt.”
“Employers never admit to discrimination,” said Rachel Arnow-Richman, director of the Workplace Law Program at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “An employer will always come forward with a justification for the termination based on a lawful reason.”
Recently, another company was caught discriminating against a cancer patient. When Carol Jumper was diagnosed with cancer affecting her ovaries, liver, and pancreas her employer, Dr. George Visnich, terminated her. The good doctor cited the difficulties presented by her treatment in a heartless letter he sent his now-former employee — before wishing her well.
Watch a report on Richards’ plight, below: