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Fired City Worker Files Complaint
July 24, 2002


Original Story in The Las Vegas Sun

Fired City of Hope worker files complaint with state
By Timothy Pratt

The City of Hope website says compassion for the seriously ill was the driving force behind the charity's founding in 1913.

But a former development director for the nonprofit's Las Vegas office says his employers were less than compassionate with him after he fell ill more than a year ago.

Now Scott Dockswell -- who worked for two years raising funds for the charity until he was fired April 17 -- has filed a complaint with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission and retained a lawyer to seek damages.

Dockswell said he was fired because the City of Hope knew he was sick with Hepatitis C and would need a costly liver transplant. He calls it a violation of the Americans with Disability Act.

"This facility depends on the goodwill of the public, through tax-exempt donations, to do what it does. But yet, they had no regard for my future," he said.

City of Hope officials would not comment on the case. Dahni Tsuboi, deputy general counsel for City of Hope, said she is "confident that the organization acted within the law and that Dockswell's allegations are incorrect."

A spokesman, in response to calls to City of Hope's board about its work, referred a reporter to the charity's website.

Dockswell took the job at City of Hope in 1999, after eight years of similar work at other Las Vegas Valley nonprofits. The charity raises money through offices in 15 cities around the country primarily to support a research and treatment hospital for cancer and other illnesses near Los Angeles. Patients come from across the country for treatment.

Dockswell began exhibiting symptoms such as tiredness and inability to lose weight as early as May 2001 but wasn't diagnosed with Hepatitis C until January this year. Between those dates, in October 2001, he received an evaluation that said he "marginally met expectations" in his job.

The fund-raiser said he asked the charity to approve an assistant to help him in the office but never received a definitive response. He changed his schedule to work early and late in the day from December 2001 on because the disease was tiring him at midday. > > Elayne Tessler, a volunteer who helps raise funds in Sun City, said Dockswell helped her chapter of 520 volunteers greatly.

"Because of his help, we raised about $70,000 from October 2000 to October 2001," Tessler said. "As far as I'm concerned, he was a big asset to City of Hope."

Dockswell said he put his disease-related problems in writing the first time in his monthly report for March.

"They would always tell me, 'Don't worry, we'll be in touch if we feel the being sick affects your work, we're behind you,"' Dockswell said.

On April 15 Dockswell was told the charity was "separating his employment" because he was "not meeting company expectations," Dockswell said.

He was not given severance pay; under law, he can continue his health insurance package for 18 months if he assumes the cost of the premium.

But his illness requires a liver transplant and a lifetime of drugs; the operation alone will cost at least $350,000.

Dockswell said he was disappointed by the nonprofit's treatment.

"They could have pursued any number of options," he said. His attorney is now pursuing some of them, including two years of severance pay plus insurance premiums for the rest of his life, or retaining him as a consultant with full medical benefits. A letter seeking a settlement was sent June 17. City of Hope had not responded as of today.

The Nevada Equal Rights Commission was to begin processing Dockswell's complaint today.

Cases such as Dockswell's are often tough to prove, Lynda Parven, administrator of the commission, said.

"With disabilities, it's hard to measure an employer's treatment of other people in the same category because they're not required to keep records of disabilities," Parven said. "So it's harder to establish if there's a pattern of discrimination."

Though the agency is not allowed to comment on specific cases, the administrator said that employees must prove that the employer's claim of poor performance was a pretext.

"I get a lot of cases of terminations that seem to be wrong in my opinion, but there's no proof that they are against the law," she said.

Photo: Patricia and Scott Dockwell pose in their home


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