NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York woman who donated a kidney so her ailing boss would move up the transplant waiting list says she was fired shortly after the operation, according to a complaint she filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
Deborah Stevens said her former employer, Atlantic Automotive Group, discriminated against her over disabilities brought about by complications from the surgery, and she plans to sue the company for lost earnings and damages.
The company, which runs car dealerships on Long Island, said Stevens’s complaint is groundless.
“My gal is just a good-natured woman who’s trying to save a life and as soon as she did it, everything changed,” said Stevens’ attorney Lenard Leeds on Tuesday.
“When she wanted to take time off, she was scolded, she was yelled at,” he said. “Instead of being sympathetic, they were very hostile towards her.”
Stevens, of Hicksville, New York, said she learned that Jacqueline Brucia, who worked at Atlantic Automotive, was in need of a kidney in November 2010. Stevens had worked there as well but at the time had temporarily moved to Florida.
Stevens said she told Brucia she would donate a kidney.
“Brucia declined, but told her, ‘You never know, I may have to take you up on that offer one day,'” the complaint said.
Stevens learned the company would rehire her following her return to New York and not long afterward, Brucia told her a potential donor had not been approved by the hospital and asked if she was still willing to donate.
Stevens now believes Brucia was “grooming (Stevens) to be her ‘back-up plan,'” the complaint said.
Stevens’s kidney was not a good match for Brucia, but she agreed to donate it to a stranger in St. Louis, Missouri, setting up a transplant chain that enabled Brucia to receive a better-matched kidney from a donor in San Francisco.
Surgeons removed Stevens’s left kidney in August, and she returned to work about a month later. The surgery left her with damaged nerves in her leg, digestive problems and mental health issues, her lawyer said.
At work, Brucia became “curt and dismissive,” the complaint said. Stevens said she was berated for taking sick days and forced to relocate to a less desirable office after she complained to human resources about Brucia’s behavior.
On April 11, the company fired her, citing performance reasons.
Stevens’s lawyer said the complaint filed with the Division of Human Rights last week was a necessary step before a federal lawsuit is filed against Brucia and the company.
Telephone calls to Brucia’s home were not answered on Tuesday.
Atlantic Automotive released a statement saying: ”It is unfortunate that one employee has used her own generous act to make up a groundless claim.
“Atlantic Auto treated her appropriately and acted honorably and fairly, at every turn,” it said.
Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Walsh