Pa. Hospital Accused of Abusing Cancer-Stricken Secretary

Hershey Medical Center, in an email to ABC News, says:

"The allegations falsely portray the circumstances of Dr. Staveley-O'Carroll's separation from Penn State Hershey. We look forward to the opportunity to provide an accurate account of his employment and departure in the appropriate legal forum. When the facts are presented, the truth will emerge."

Greg Randall Lee, a professor at Widener Law School specializing in disability issues, says the case has implications for the American workplace, since it has the potential to expand the scope of who's protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The Supreme Court, he tells ABC News, has already decided that Act protects not just the person requesting (in this case) medical leave, but also third parties who defend that person in the exercise of to their FMLA rights. In one case, it decided protection extended to a woman's fiancée; in another, to a sibling.

The court has not, however, decided whether or not the protection extends to a boss, an assistant or to some other co-worker.

That's one issue raised by Staveley-O'Carroll, Lee explains. Hershey, he expects, will argue it does not. If the judge sides with Hershey, he says, then "the whole case will go away." If the judge decides, however, that the doctor is protected under FMLA, then the next question becomes: "What was the center's motivation for doing what it did? What were the facts?"

If, for example, Ms. Doe's cancer was not the reason that Hershey allegedly retaliated against her—if, instead, her socializing with co-workers had prevented them from getting work done, then that, says Lee, would have been justifiable cause for Hershey punishing or terminating her. So, also, Lee says, would have been Doe's behaving abusively toward patients or otherwise engaging in inappropriate behavior.

At the moment, cautions Lee, all we have is the plaintiff's side of the story. Still, he says, referring to the hospital's alleged behavior toward the secretary: "If the facts are as they are presented in the complaint, it's an incredibly curious position for the center to have taken: You're running a cancer wing? The last thing you want is region-wide publicity that you abuse cancer patients."

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