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CEO of Tuesday Morning claims wrongful termination for cancer

The long-time chief executive officer of home décor retailer Tuesday Morning Corp. has filed a disability discrimination and wrongful termination complaint with the EEOC against her former company. The woman, who had been CEO of the company since July 2000, was fired in June, shortly after disclosing to the board of directors that she was suffering from breast cancer.

The complaint claims that the board’s attitude toward her work changed dramatically after they learned of her diagnosis and treatment, and that change resulted in her wrongful termination.

“The board made it clear she was not being fired ‘for cause’ and the company wanted to retain her expertise for another 11-and-a-half years. One has to question why she was removed from her job,” her attorney said in a statement.

Adding complexity to the case, however, is the fact that the retailer’s stock price dropped nearly 90 percent during the last seven years under her tenure. Becker Drapkin Management LP, an activist investment firm that is one of the top shareholders of Tuesday Morning used that fact to criticize the now ex-CEO and to demand seats on the board.

“[She] has led an extraordinary destruction of shareholder value in stark contrast to the success of Tuesday Morning’s peer group,” reads a letter to the board dated June 5, according to Thomson Reuters News & Insight reporters.

Two Becker Drapkin nominees were indeed given seats shortly afterward. A spokesperson for Tuesday Morning issued a statement claiming that there was no wrongful termination or discrimination, and that her firing was done fully in accordance with her employment agreement.

“The company believes that any claims relating to her termination are without merit and intends to vigorously defend any such claims,” said the statement.

It is often difficult to tell whether discrimination is the real reason behind a termination or other adverse employment action. Employers could never come out and say it, of course, so a seemingly reasonable explanation must be provided when discrimination was indeed involved. Unfortunately, the false explanations sound very much like the truthful ones.

The EEOC or a state employment or human rights commission will often need to perform a detailed investigation to ferret out the real reason someone was fired. Attorneys for the company may perform an internal investigation, as well, and it is important to remember that they represent the company, not the employee. Private lawyers will often perform their own inquiries, as well.

In the end, a great deal of effort will be put forth to determine, as accurately as possible, what happened and why. Then, if the case can’t be settled, the final conclusion is up to a judge and jury.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, “Tuesday Morning ex-CEO says fired after breast cancer disclosure,” Arpita Mukherjee, Juhi Arora and Chris Peters, Aug. 3, 2012

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