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Problem Solvers: Grandmother says she was fired for breast cancer diagnosis

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WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- Laura Garcia will undergo a double mastectomy on Tuesday. The Westminster grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in October.

Her doctor said she would need a two-month recovery period, but when she asked her employer for a leave of absence, she was stunned by its response.

“At that time, I was told I would have to resign or be terminated since I had only been there for six months,” Garcia said.

Garcia is a billing specialist who worked for Touchstone Imaging, a nationwide company that performs MRIs, X-rays, CAT scans, ultrasounds and mammograms.

In fact, it was a Touchstone Imaging facility in Lafayette that found Garcia’s breast cancer, so she was shocked when she was given the choice to resign or be fired.

"I asked if there was anything I could do to in order to keep my job and she said if she gave you an exception, then she would have to give everybody else an exception," Garcia said while describing a phone conversation with the company’s human resources director.

Termination letter

Laura Garcia received a letter of "involuntary termination" from Touchstone Imaging

Garcia refused to resign so her local supervisor sent an email to the corporate office in Brentwood, Tenn., that reads in part, “I haven't been able to find anything in the handbook stating that an employee has to resign or be terminated if they don't qualify for LOA (Leave of Absence) or FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act).  To your knowledge, is there anything stating this?"

The response from the human resources director read, “The information from the handbook stating that she's not eligible for LOA or FMLA suffices. Upon her last day please complete a termination form.”

FOX31 asked Denver employment attorney Paula Greisen about Touchstone’s conduct of terminating Garcia.

“It sounds to me like this is clearly illegal," Greisen said.

Greisen said it’s true the Family Medical Leave Act doesn’t apply to employees of less than 12 months, but she said the Americans with Disabilities Act does.  Greisen said time off for breast cancer surgery is a disability that requires what the law calls “a reasonable accommodation.”

“It's really somebody who's being kicked while they're down. Not only takes away a person's income but at a critical time in a person's life, they take away her access to health insurance,” Greisen said.

FOX31 asked Touchstone Imaging why Garcia was fired and if it was aware it might be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

CEO Pat Rice responded with an email that said: “We believe that we have made it clear to Laura that we look forward to her returning to work at Touchstone following her recovery. 'Fired' is certainly not the correct term which would infer that she has a performance problem and in which case we would not welcome her back.”

Not satisfied with the answer because Touchstone refused to say why Garcia was let go, we pressed for more answers, including whether Garcia would be reinstated.

Rice responded with a new statement that read, “We are happy to accommodate Laura’s personal preferences to remain an active employee at this time. We originally processed her absence in an administrative way that we felt was consistent with Federal guideline, knowing all along that she had a workplace family to come back to as soon as she was able. This was not communicated clearly, and we sincerely apologize.”

The company’s reversal came just hours after Garcia applied for Medicaid to pay for Tuesday’s surgery.