Single Mother Fired While Battling Cancer: Employer Denies Claims of Wrongdoing

 

By Selene Raj

A Coral Springs woman is facing an increasingly challenging situation after her employer terminated her during chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

In July, Tina Gehring, 50, a single mother, was diagnosed with Stage 3-4 colon cancer. A resident of the city for 43 years, she has worked for the last three as a legal assistant at the Law Offices of Rina Feld. 

Feld, an attorney for nearly a decade, is part of a three-attorney team located in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, specializing in property damage, probate, and estate planning law. 

As a legal assistant, Gehring worked at the firm remotely during the pandemic from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., answering phones and emails, drafting documents, and scheduling case-related events, along with additional tasks such as picking up and dropping off documents. 

However, her ability to pay her medical bills is dwindling without that job. 

Gehring is receiving unemployment benefits and applying for aid when and where she can, but says it doesn’t come close to covering what she needs, and a new job hasn’t been lined up.

After completing her most recent round of chemotherapy last week, even with community support, Gehring is still struggling to pay for her treatment. And she’s scheduled for another round in January.

“Fingers crossed– so far, it’s working,” Gehring said.

A decade ago, she lost her life partner, Alex, to a sudden fatal heart attack. Since then, she’s been raising their daughter, Tatiana, now 12, on a single income.

After her diagnosis, Gehring alleges she was fired due to having cancer, a claim Feld denies.

Gehring says two days after her diagnosis, she notified Feld.

Feld told her she was concerned and thought Gehring should take off work because of how sick she’d eventually be, she said.

Gehring chose to continue working full-time and remotely along with the rest of the office.

She would complete chemotherapy treatments every other Wednesday for approximately four hours while working remotely. 

During chemotherapy, the port she wore needed to be removed the following week, which would lead to her missing one and a half hours of work.

“I always made up that time because I worked from home and, if necessary, depending on clients’ needs, before or after hours,” said Gehring.

On October 15, Gehring said Feld changed her status to part-time.

“She said I was doing an excellent job, but  it was ‘best for me to worry about my health and not work.’”

Gehring told Feld that she didn’t understand why because she worked through chemotherapy and made sure that she didn’t “miss a beat.”

“[Feld] said, ‘I know, and I don’t like that you’re working while getting your treatment,’” Gehring said, adding she explained her financial position to Feld — that she was getting by, and offered to take off every other Wednesday instead.

According to Gehring, Feld responded by saying that she would be ‘no good to her daughter dead,’ which she said shocked her.

Single Mother Fired While Battling Cancer: Employer Denies Claims of Wrongdoing

Coral Springs resident Tina Gehring and her daughter Tatiana.

“I was speechless and just listened and cried as she told me that I would be working three days a week and my pay was being cut in half,” she said.

While her pay and hours were cut in half and her vacation time revoked, Gehring said she was still expected to do full-time work.

Instead of allowing another employee to handle the calls on the days she wasn’t there, Gehring said they were sent to an answering service. Gehring said she, rather than the additional hired employee, was expected to take care of the messages left on her days off while also running work-related errands throughout South Florida on the days she was in.

Gehring said her work performance never suffered and that Feld repeatedly called her a “stellar” employee.

On November 14, Gehring was terminated.

Gehring alleges Feld didn’t think she should work until after her surgery, which confused her as her surgery wouldn’t be scheduled until the spring.

Her daughter Tatiana overheard the conversation and asked if she was being fired. Gehring began to cry.

“She gave me no other reason for letting me go,” said Gehring.

Florida is an at-will employment state. Employers do not have to provide a reason for firing an employee; however,  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protect employees with cancer against discrimination and ensure up to 12 weeks of paid leave.  But it only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees, which exempted Feld’s law firm.

Gehring said she was devastated— left unemployed while battling cancer, and preparing for her daughter’s upcoming birthday, Thanksgiving, and the holidays.

“[Feld] said ‘sorry’ and she knows money will be ‘tight’ and I said, ‘What money? There will be no money.”

Gehring alleges Feld said that while she would hate her for now, she’d thank her later.

Her employer, Feld, disputes some of the details.

“I did not fire [Gehring] for having cancer,” she said, “Those statements on the GoFundMe page are inaccurate and false.”

She did say that Gehring was upbeat, loyal, and contributed to the business. She added that she was saddened by Gehring’s diagnosis and tried to support her by going above and beyond to accommodate her appointments and vacation time.

“I provided her the time off necessary to attend treatment and recovery, [and] when Tina began to struggle with her duties; I hired part-time help to assist in the office.”

Feld’s office did not provide medical insurance for Gehring; however, she said she assisted with referrals to doctors, disability resources for federal assistance, as well as granting time off.

With only one other employee, it became a monumental struggle to accommodate Gehring’s absences, according to Feld.

“Phone calls went unanswered, clients complained about the lack of responsiveness, and most troublingly, court deadlines were not properly scheduled,” said Feld.

When asked if any written documentation reflected incompetence or poor performance, Feld declined to provide any, stating she communicated only verbally and all documents were confidential.

“That is a flat-out lie,” Gehring said, “I did not miss deadlines for anything—that could be proven.”

Feld also declined to state if another person could confirm allegations of Gehring’s poor performance.

Gehring responded that not only did her duties never suffer but that she also went above and beyond to perform more than a part-time employee would.

“I had a chemo port in me, and I was going to driving to Lake Worth to pick up a death certificate for her. I would answer calls at 7:30 p.m.,” she said.

Feld said she could not afford to keep an employee who could not perform her duties and paid her severance.

“I suggested to Tina that she could be in a better financial position if I let her go so that she could qualify for federal assistance instead, particularly Medicaid,” said Feld.

She denied the allegations that she said Gehring would thank her later. She said Gehring needed time to rest and heal.

Feld said she offered sympathy and help countless times and was empathetic with Gehring’s unfortunate set of circumstances.

She wishes Gehring the best for recovery and hopes to see her gainfully employed as quickly as possible.

“I did my best to treat [Gehring] kindly and respectfully,” she said.

Elizabeth Pitts, Gehring’s sister-in-law, disagrees.

Pitts was one of the first people to learn of Gehring losing her job, because Gehring called her right away, and said it was solely due to her cancer, with no other reason given by Feld.

“[Gehring] is a single mother and has always had to do it all herself, now, no job and cancer?” said Pitts.

Her heart was breaking for her, Pitts said, because the circumstances of her termination were wrong.

“[Feld] reassured her that her job was secure and she would get back to full time, Tina trusted her— the fact that she said those things to her and then a month later turned around and fired her disgusted me all the more,” said Pitts.

Pitts set up a GoFundMe for Gehring, which she was reluctant to take, but Pitts insisted.

“This is for her and her daughter. At the end of the day, it’s about her beating colon cancer and surviving through this,” said Pitts. “She is in need of help, and that’s why we are reaching out to the community for it,” said Pitts.

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Author Profile

Selene Raj

Selene Raj
Selene Raj is a writer and a Florida International University graduate. Born in Trinidad and raised in America, she completed her Master’s in Mass Communications in 2020 and has been living in Coral Springs since 2004.

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