Michaels ordered to pay $8 million to manager fired after breast cancer diagnosis

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Michaels ordered to pay $8 million to manager fired after breast cancer diagnosis - Wednesday, September 08, 2010 1:19 PM
The Dallas Morning News
 
September 8, 2010, By Maria Halkias
 
A federal jury in Florida has ordered Michaels Stores Inc. to pay more than $8 million to a former store manager who was fired three months after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
 
Kara Jorud, 47, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2008 and had a double mastectomy the following month. She was undergoing chemotherapy when she was fired in October of that year after Irving-based Michaels said she had violated store policies.
 
Following a five-day trial in West Palm Beach, a jury last week had to decide whether Jorud was let go by district manager Skip Sand because she violated company policies or because she had cancer, said Joe Curley, one of the attorneys representing Jorud.
 
The lawsuit, which was also filed against Sand, said the retailer violated the Family Medical Leave Act, the Florida Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The jury found that Jorud's rights under all three acts were violated.
 
Mike Veitenheimer, Michaels' senior vice president and general counsel, said the retailer was disappointed with the verdict.
 
"As a company with nearly 40,000 employees, Michaels works daily with men and women who have illnesses and disabilities of all kinds, and has a long track record of treating them fairly and compassionately," Veitenheimer said in a prepared statement.
 
He declined to say whether the company will appeal.
 
Jorud's cancer is now in remission, and she works at a HomeGoods store. Her attorneys, Curley and Brian McPherson, said she pursued the lawsuit because she didn't want "this to happen to other people."
 
In March 2009, Jorud filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the agency issued her a right to sue letter.
 
The lawsuit was filed last October. The complaint said Michaels interfered with Jorud's right to take leave, demanded that she not miss work, forced her to work when she was not physically able, harassed her when she was not at work and threatened her for taking time off.
 
Michaels said she violated store policy when her fiancé and his son helped her move merchandise to make room for a major shipment's arrival. She was also accused of stealing, but she disproved that by providing a receipt.
 
In the next few weeks, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra can award Jorud an additional $1 million in damages for lost wages, employment benefits and other lost compensation.
 
Jorud worked for Michaels as a store manager in Massachusetts from 2001 to 2004. In 2005, the company paid for her move to Florida so she could manage Michaels' high-volume store in Boca Raton, the complaint said.
 
She received positive reviews and scores, according to the complaint, until she started having health issues in late 2007. She was misdiagnosed with lupus before the breast cancer was detected.