An Alberta mother who alleges Starbucks Coffee Canada Inc. mistakenly thought her cancer symptoms were COVID-19 symptoms is now taking legal action against the company, arguing she was wrongfully fired over the mix-up.
Lisa Pedersen has a rare type of blood cancer called myeloproliferative neoplasm and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for it. This is while she is also parenting three kids, including one with special needs who requires round-the-clock care.
Pedersen has been fighting the cancer for the last two years, and now she is also fighting her former employer whom she said fired her without cause.
For four years Pedersen worked at a Starbucks coffeeshop in Airdrie, Alta., a job she called her “dream job.”
She said she worked her way up to a supervisor position and liked the company and its culture so much that she planned to work there until retirement.
In April 2021, her dream job came to an end when she said she was fired.
“You have to have three writeups to be fired from Starbucks, so they did all three at once,” she told Global News. “One for coming to work sick, one for not following COVID protocols and one for handling food while sick.”
Pedersen said she never had COVID-19 and believes her cancer symptoms were mistaken for the symptoms of the coronavirus.
The cancer was officially diagnosed a month after she said she was let go for breaking the company’s health policy.
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The Calgary law firm Samfiru Tumarkin LLP has filed a lawsuit against Starbucks Coffee Canada Inc., on behalf of Pedersen.
“She was unfairly reprimanded due to symptoms believed to be COVID-19-related, when in fact it was actually blood cancer,” Pedersen’s said Aaron Levitin, Pederson’s lawyer.
Pedersen said she tested for COVID-19 and forwarded the results to her boss in an effort to prove she had not been working or handling food while symptomatic for the illness.
“I lost all of my benefits,” she said. “They gave me one week to use my health benefits.”
Pedersen used her week to book optometry appointments for herself and her three children.
She said it was the optometrist who noticed a spot on her eye and sent her for bloodwork.
The tests were positive for cancer, and Pedersen maintains the symptoms she was experiencing, which included a migraine headache and severe stomach upset, were mistaken for COVID-19 symptoms.
“She did send an email notifying them her symptoms were related to cancer and she never received a response to that communication,” Levitin told Global News.
Pedersen said she had plans in place to take care of her three kids should something happen to her, but those plans came to an end when she was terminated from her place of employment.
“I had a life insurance policy through Starbucks,” she said. “I’ve lost that now and I don’t qualify for a new policy because you have to be cancer-free for five years, and my type of cancer, there is no cure.”
“Starbucks needs to make the right decision and stand by its position that it is a conscientious employer that takes care of its partners,” Levitin said. “It’s a tragic loss for her family. She can no longer qualify for life insurance.”
Pedersen’s future is uncertain and this lawsuit is likely to take years to make its way through the court system.
“It would be amazing if Lisa could spend this time with her family and focus on recovering and not be involved in ongoing litigation with a behemoth,” Levitin said. “Unfortunately, that’s the position that Lisa finds herself in.”
The statement of claim has been filed but no statement of defence has been filed to date by Starbucks in response to Pedersen’s lawsuit.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Global News reached out to a media representative for Starbucks Canada, but at the time of publication, had not received a response to our request.