Florida Man Says He Was Fired for Daughter’s Cancer Treatment
(PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla.) -- A man in Palm Beach County, Fla., is suing his former employer, saying he was terminated on a pretext because his late daughter's cancer treatments were too expensive.
Yovany Gonzalez, 36, was a securities broker with Wells Fargo in Palm Beach County. He began his career as a mortgage consultant at a Wachovia bank branch, which was acquired by Wells Fargo in 2008.
One of his children, Mackenzie, was diagnosed with cancer in December 2008. During Mackenzie's treatment, Gonzalez had to work irregular hours, "generally less than full time, and in several different locations," the suit states.
His attorney, Jack Scarola, said, "This is a case of heart versus pocketbook."
"There's a dramatic contrast between Yovany's coworkers -- their willingness to help family out while Mackenzie was being treated -- and callousness of corporate management on the other," said Scarola.
Gonzalez alleges that he was fired on a pretext -- for falsifying his time records -- but that his daughter's medical treatment costs were the real reason.
He is suing for damages in excess of $15,000, the jurisdictional minimum that must be pled in order for a case to be pursued in the circuit court of the state, Scarola said.
A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo said, "Mr. Gonzalez's termination was completely unrelated to his family's health care needs."
"The passing of Mr. Gonzalez's daughter was tragic. Our deepest sympathies go out to him and his family," the company said in a statement to ABC News this week. "We value and support all of our team members. As part of that commitment, we provide comprehensive health care coverage for more than 500,000 team members and their families to help them manage their medical needs including terminal illnesses. Use of these benefits do not affect their employment at Wells Fargo."
Gonzalez said part of the mix-up with his time sheet was due to the fact that he was working remotely during his daughter's cancer treatment.
"On many occasions, Gonzalez was unable to record time when he was working, with bank approval, from a remote location," according to the lawsuit filed with Palm Beach County Court last week.
Scarola said Gonzalez declined to comment directly at this point in the litigation.
In the suit, Gonzalez claims the company changed its time entry system for employees such that workers could not enter time for work without the assistance of a supervisor. He said he enrolled the help of his supervisor, who had told him, "everything was fine, and that he should provide his best recollection of the hours," the suit stated, and "she then input the time for him."
In July 2010, Gonzalez learned his daughter needed surgery to remove a tumor, which was later scheduled for August 2010 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
The suit states that Gonzalez's wife, Susan, was contacted by Wells Fargo and his insurer, United Healthcare, "who asked numerous questions about Mackenzie's surgery and long-term care."
"Several references were made to the cost of her treatment," the suit states.
United Healthcare did not return a request for comment.
Though Wells Fargo accommodated Gonzalez to work in other locations, even flying him and his daughter for medical care at one point, he said his supervisor told him in late July 2010 the company was "looking for reasons to get rid of him," the suit stated.
Also in late July 2010, Gonzalez alleges in his suit, he received a call from a woman who said she was with Wells Fargo's security department, who stated she was investigating whether he falsified his timesheet.
"She accused Gonzalez of stealing from the company," but he "pointed out that the timesheet in question" was one his supervisor completed for him, the suit stated.
On Aug. 3, 2010, he was terminated for falsification of time records.
"He was not asked any questions about the allegations or given any chance to explain the circumstances," the suit stated.
Scarola said his client was "devastated he was being accused of serious dishonesty."
"He was losing his job at a time that was critical to his daughter's health and welfare," the attorney said.
Gonzalez was fired three days before his daughter's scheduled surgery, the suit states, and the hospital "cancelled Mackenzie's surgery due to the lack of insurance coverage," the suit states.
A spokeswoman for Memorial Sloan-Kettering said it could not comment on this specific case due to federal patient privacy issues.
"But know that Memorial Sloan-Kettering would never, ever abandon a child who needs our care," the hospital said in a statement.
Scarola said Mackenzie's surgery was ultimately financed through charitable contributions and hundreds of thousands of dollars were incurred in the two and a half years between her diagnosis and death on March 2, 2011, when she was six years old.
Gonzalez, who began working at another bank in July 2011, said he is unable to work as a sponsored securities broker because of his termination, though he is still licensed. He said he is earning less than he would as a securities broker, the suit states.
Scarola said since the lawsuit received media attention, people have called his law firm to offer their support and to pay for the family's legal expenses. Because the law firm has undertaken legal representation on a straight contingency basis, the Gonzalez family has no obligation to pay fees or expenses, he said.
"I was really quite surprised and gratified to see those expressions of support that have also been very helpful to the family," he said.
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