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Woman launches human rights complaint after losing her job following cancer diagnoses

Last Updated May 9, 2018 at 9:03 am EDT

An Ontario woman is launching a human rights complaint, claiming disability discrimination after she says she lost her job with the Ministry of Education in January of 2014.

Lydia Mason, who worked as a project manager with the government for 14 years, said the news of her termination came just weeks after telling her manager she would be taking sick leave because she had been diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.

Mason alleges she received a phone call with the news of her termination while she was in hospital recovering from surgery, just five weeks after she had left work on a short term sick leave.

“Its cruel, it’s despicable, its evil,” Mason said,

“When someone is at the lowest point of their life and they can’t fight.”

A letter to Mason from the Ministry of Education explained that due to “business decisions”, the number of staff were being reduced, and one position in her unit — hers — had been deemed “surplus.”

“I was going through a lot, still having bandages on from surgery, on lots of medication,” she recalled.

“I remember as if it was yesterday receiving that phone call, saying, ‘What am I supposed to do now? What the hell am I supposed to do now?'”

Mason said she remained on short term disability for the six months that had been approved, but when she applied for long-term disability she was denied.

She appealed and is now on an unpaid leave, paying monthly into her employers benefits plan.

Mason said she believes her diagnoses played a role in the decision to terminate her.

“I believe in my heart it was the fact that I was sick and wasn’t able to come back to work after surgery, or come back between chemo as many other people do,” she said.

Four years later, she is still battling the aggressive cancer, paying thousands a year for medication.

The cost of her care is part of the reason she is now launching a human rights complaint against her employer.

Her lawsuit is asking for $1 million in damages, but Mason said the money isn’t the only reason she is putting up a fight.

“I speak for everyone who is going through this,” she said.

“My mother had cancer and she fought and fought; she had issues with work and with her being sick.”

In an email statement sent to CityNews, a spokesperson for the the Ministry of Education wrote the following:

“While we cannot comment on internal human resources matters, the Ministry of Education strives to be a workplace where everyone feels welcomed, valued and respected,” the statement reads.

“The ministry takes the health and wellness of employees members very seriously and has substantial sick leave provisions in place should an employee need to take a leave.”