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Arizona state employee terminated while battling cancer

The termination of an Arizona State Parks & Trails (ASPT) employee while she taking time away from her job under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has come under media scrutiny. The woman, who has eye cancer, has also been taking care of her elderly mother who suffers from dementia.

The 59-year-old woman, who has worked as both an outreach events coordinator and ranger for ASPT over her nearly 20-year career, says she would have been eligible to retire with full pension benefits in less than a year. That is now gone, along with her health insurance, which she'll lose at the end of June.

Just over a week before she received a letter informing her that her "services are no longer needed," she'd been granted 12 weeks of protected time off that she could take through May 2019 under the FMLA.

She's the second woman in two years to be fired from a state job while battling cancer. The first woman was reinstated to her job as a teacher by Gov. Doug Ducey in August 2016 after her termination caused public outrage. Gov. Ducey also reinstated nearly 50 state employees to their positions that year amid media reports of employment discrimination.

However, he doesn't appear inclined to overturn the action in this most recent case. His spokesman said the Governor's Office was assured that "proper employment protocols were followed in this instance."

A spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA) says the termination was "based on a number of recent and past performance issues." However, no performance issues were mentioned in the letter of termination. Her most recent performance review included a number of positive comments.

The terminated employee says that last year her manager, ASPT's director, started harassing her due to her medical condition and age. The director has been the subject of other accusations of harassment by employees. Under her management, some 100 employees have resigned. Although the Governor's Office reportedly investigated claims of employee mistreatment by ASPT's director, no action was taken against her.

The FMLA affords employees a number of protections that help protect them from termination by employers who may believe their leave is a drain on an agency or company or may have prejudices about their medical conditions. Anyone who's been terminated while on approved FMLA leave should seek legal guidance to determine what their legal options are.

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