Employment Law

Mother sues Starbucks Canada after firing over cancer symptoms mistaken for COVID-19

press release, media

A former shift supervisor at Starbucks Canada is claiming that she was wrongfully terminated by the multibillion-dollar coffee chain for allegedly violating COVID-19 policies and food safety standards. The single mother of three, who is battling a terminal form of blood cancer, lost both a life insurance policy and a job that provided her with the flexibility to care for her disabled son, who requires all-around care.

Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, Canada’s largest employee-focused employment law firm, is representing Lisa Pedersen, who is seeking damages from Starbucks.

“Starbucks needs to make the right decision and stand by its position that it is a conscientious employer that takes care of its partners,” said Aaron Levitin, Associate at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP and Lisa’s lawyer.

What happened

Lisa began working at Starbucks’ coffeeshop on Stonegate Drive in Airdrie, Alberta in August 2017. During her time with her employer, she earned countless positive performance reviews and a “Partner of the Quarter” award.

Through the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, her manager advised her that she was instrumental in keeping two additional Starbucks locations in operation during staffing shortages.

“I loved working for Starbucks. It was my dream job. It allowed me to take care of my family both financially and medically,” said Lisa. “Every customer I served enabled me to create stronger relationships within my community.”

The claim states that Lisa’s job provided her with a flexible work schedule that allowed her to take care of her son, Gage, who suffers from various afflictions, including global developmental delay and vocal cord paralysis. He also requires the use of leg braces and a wheelchair.

In April 2021, Lisa informed her manager that she felt unwell. Despite her symptoms, her manager required her to continue working.

Out of an abundance of caution, Lisa completed a COVID-19 test through Alberta Health. Although she tested negative for the virus, she was fired without cause in May 2021.

“After I was fired, I reached out to Starbucks’ human resources department to appeal the decision,” said Lisa. “I was told the company was firing employees who worked sick, but that my appeal would be investigated.”

Shortly after her termination, and on the advice of her optometrist, Lisa had bloodwork done that determined that she has myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN), a rare and incurable type of blood cancer that reduces her life expectancy. MPN produces symptoms similar to the ones she experienced before her termination.

Following her diagnosis, Lisa sent an email to Starbucks to inform them that the symptoms that led to her termination were tied to blood cancer, rather than COVID-19. She did not receive a response from the company.

Left without life insurance

“I had a life insurance policy through Starbucks,” said Lisa. “I’ve lost that now, and I can’t get a new policy through any other insurance companies because you have to be cancer-free for five years, and my type of cancer, there is no cure.”

If Lisa received proper notice before she was terminated, she would have been able to convert her life insurance policy at Starbucks into an individual policy.

“The company I once loved left my family in a terrible position for our future. It feels like they punished me for having cancer,” said Lisa. “The plans I had in place to take care of my children if something happened to me have been shattered.”

“What Lisa has experienced is truly heartbreaking. She was unfairly reprimanded by Starbucks over symptoms believed to be COVID-19-related, when they were actually related to blood cancer,” said Levitin. “She deserves to be spending quality time with loved ones and focusing on her health. Instead, she has to take legal action against an employer she genuinely respected to secure the financial support that she desperately needs.”

Samfiru Tumarkin LLP recently spoke with Global News Calgary about the lawsuit.

For further information: Stephanie Hodges, Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, 416-216-8595

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