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Breast cancer survivor demoted after surgery

A Chick-fil-A employee whose job and benefits were changed after she took time off to get a double mastectomy is accusing her employer of discrimination.
Drive through customers wait in line at a Chick-fil-A restaurant on in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Drive through customers wait in line at a Chick-fil-A restaurant on in Fort Worth, Texas.

A Colorado Chick-fil-A employee whose insurance, hours, and leadership role was cut after she took time off to get a double mastectomy is accusing her employer of discrimination.

"I had double breast cancer in both breasts," Daphne Richards told a local news network, explaining she’d relocated with her two kids from Indiana to take the job of shift manager late last year before being diagnosed with cancer.

Once Richards was diagnosed, the company, through a lawyer, confirmed to msnbc that they offered to pay her health insurance premiums while she was on unpaid leave for the surgery.

But when she returned from weeks of recovery, Richards told the local network she was met with a nasty surprise: she was losing her manager job, her hours were being slashed by more than half, her pay was being docked from $14 an hour to $10 an hour, and she was losing her health benefits.

The company says she was demoted because of poor performance and a management restructuring, but Richards denies that she was informed of any performance problems and believes it's because of her cancer. She’s filed a discrimination charge with the state’s Civil Rights Commission.

"What else could it be?" she told the network. "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?'"

Chick-fil-A—via attorney Frederick Schaefer—denies that Richards was discriminated against, and said they’ve since offered to give her 30-35 hours now because her health is improving and are considering extending her health benefits, saying they only recently realized she would have continuing medical costs and suggesting that Obamacare presented another option for the cancer survivor to seek out medical coverage.

“We certainly don’t want to appear callous,” Schaefer told msnbc. “The Chick-fil-A here in Larkridge is supportive of cancer organizations in a number of ways.”

Unlike similar fast food chains, Chick-fil-A promises that their business is run with Christian values. The company’s late founder S. Truett Cathy made Christian practices a business practice, closing the chain down on Sundays, putting Biblical verses on Styrofoam cups, and at one point funding anti-gay marriage organizations and advocating for Proposition 8, a California state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage. Still, the companies are run and owned by individuals. Barrie Goettsche, the owner of the specific chain location, did not respond to a message left at the restaurant.

Schaefer wrote in a prepared statement that Richards is "an important member of the Chick-fil-A at Larkridge in Thornton, CO family," and stressed that she wasn't fired, but merely a symptom of a restructuring. 

Employment attorney Diane King, an attorney at an employment law firm King and Greisen LLP, said Richards' story is all too familiar. Legally, employers are required to hold a position or a comparable position for full-time disabled employees who need medical leave.

"It’s very common to have employers -- you can’t say we’re discriminating against you because you have cancer," she said. "They tend to say, well, we’re doing a restructuring and so it has nothing to do with your disability, and by the way you were a horrible employee we just forgot to tell you about it."

King said she is currently working on several cases with similar circumstances. 

"It's surprisingly a common thing," she said. "It’s heartbreaking."