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Posted by on Jan 7, 2013 in At TMV | 8 comments

Worker Fired For Taking Time To Care For Dying Wife

This is one of those stories that I suspect will develop considerably as time goes on.

The basic story is that a city worker in Massachusetts was fired for taking off to much time while caring for his wife, who was dying of cancer. The worker is now suing alleging that there was racial bias involved (he is white and the person who took his place is hispanic)

Setting aside the racial issue this is one of those stories that is always difficult to deal with. On the one hand certainly the man should be able to spend time with his dying wife. On the other hand his absence certainly puts strain on his co workers and if a temp is hired to take his place then what about their situation ?

It’s a tough subject even without the racial angle and will be an interesting story to follow. I welcome your thoughts on this story and the topic in general.

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  • rudi

    This story has multiple slants from local Boston media. One link(above) doesn’t even mention that the mayor and city tried to work with the man. This link shows that the mayor worked with the man and the new hire is only TEMPORARY.

    Lantigua said Santiago was only hired for a 90-day period to help the city get through the winter.

    Sapienza did not qualify for Family Medical Leave Act protection because his employment with the city was interrupted by two layoffs, and he had just returned to his job in May.

    Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months or for at least 1,250 hours during the the previous 12 months, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

  • rudi

    I understand that most states in the Boston area make terminal brain cancer patients eligible for hospice.

    Many hospice groups in Florida also have volunteers that assist at patients homes.

    Prior to his termination his wife would qualify for hospice. While not living at home, his wife would had round the clock care. When death was near, the wife coulkd be transfered home to spend her last day(s) at home.

  • adelinesdad

    This particular story has got so many nuances I’m not sure exactly if I want to try to wade in, but here goes.

    There’s two general questions here: what should be legal and what is moral?

    From a legal perspective, as unfortunate as the situation is I don’t see how you can expect employers to hold out indefinitely. FMLA gives employees some reasonable protection but as mentioned there are also reasonable limitations and in this case Sapienza didn’t qualify for legitimate reasons. As I see the story right now, I don’t think the city did anything illegal, or anything that should be illegal. As for the racial angle, I don’t see any reason to suspect discrimination but of course there might be nuances not being reported right now.

    From a moral perspective I think the city has an obligation to do all it can for Sapienza while also doing right by the temporary employee. Normally I’d say that means let the temp finish out his 90 day term and then re-hire Sapienza if he still wants the job. However, since it appears the temp has gotten himself into some trouble with the law that might be grounds for firing the temp right now and re-hiring Sapienza.

  • adelinesdad


    Even if hospice is available I’m not sure how that changes much. Personally I can’t imagine going to work if my wife had weeks to live regardless of whether her physical needs were being met. Also there might be kids to care for in more ways than one (not sure if that applies in this case).

  • sheknows

    Since the 1250 hrs don’t have to be consecutive, he must have been laid off for over 100 days through out the year.
    It is of course a very sad case but it sounds like everyone tried their best to help him keep his job. He was given extended leave w/o pay which most companies would not do, and offered a late shift to help keep him employed.
    It doesn’t sound at all as though this was a reverse discrimination case. Just a very sad set of circumstances.

  • rudi

    Staying with a dying spouse or parent 24/7 will drive you crazy. The mayor was willing to work with him. Keeping a job and then spending every other minute with his wife at hospice would suffice. He stayed with his wife for almost six months – nonstop.

    My brother went thru same situation at the hospital for the same cancer with his wife. Nurses and social works suggested he take a break from sitting in a hospital 24/7. He got sick sitting in a hospital for days. Parents and children can replace him for short periods of time. Going back to work can relieve the stress.

  • adelinesdad


    Perhaps but I guess I just wouldn’t second guess his decision. I assume he knew of the options available to him and he did what he thought he had to do, as did his employer, and unfortunately they couldn’t work it out (though as I said it doesn’t seem too late to make things work, though a lawsuit probably isn’t going to help).

  • sheknows is an absolutely devastating experience to endure. I think at this point he is in the anger stage, and is just lashing out at anyone he can.
    I feel for him.

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