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WIU settles with coach who was fired after cancer diagnosis

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in Firing,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

Western Illinois University has settled a wrongful discharge claim with former head football coach Don Patterson, who lost his job after learning he had cancer.

Patterson was diagnosed with tonsillar cancer in July 2008, forcing him to miss preseason camp and the first half of the season to undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Patterson returned in 2009 to lead the team through spring practice and preseason training. Three games into the season, the university announced that Patterson had resigned.

That’s when Patterson sued Western Illinois, claiming its actions violated both the ADA and the FMLA.

According to a statement by Patterson following the settlement, the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Access conducted an internal investigation and concluded that Western Illinois discriminated against Patterson when it fired him.

Advice: Be careful when terminating an employee who is being accommodated or is taking or has taken medical leave.

In this case, Western Illinois fired Patterson after he returned to work and couched it as a resignation. Conflicting stories concerning whether he resigned or was fired raised red flags at the EEOC. If the case had gone to trial, a court probably would have demanded that the university establish its credibility.

When you decide to terminate any employee, document the reasons and state the facts.

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