Pfizer Sued Over Domestic Violence Leave

     TACOMA, Wash. (CN) – A woman says Pfizer violated state law by firing her after her husband kidnapped her at gunpoint and police told her to go into hiding until his trial was over.

     Lesley Goodson says she “has been in hiding, moving constantly and using only cash for purchases” while her husband is out on bail.
     She says she was earning more than $100,000 a year plus benefits as a pharmaceutical sales rep when Pfizer fired her, effective Dec. 31, 2010, and that the firing violated Washington law on protected domestic violence leave.
     Goodson was at a crowded restaurant when her estranged husband, Dr. Nick Uraga, violated a “no contact” order and threatened to shoot her with a .35-caliber handgun and then kill himself, according to the complaint in Pierce County Court. This happened on May 24, 2010.
     Goodson says she was able to escape by slipping a note to a restaurant worker, who called police. “Uraga was charged with kidnapping in the first degree and felony harassment,” according to the complaint.
     Goodson says Uraga was arrested and jailed, but posted bail and was released on $500,000 bond.
     The complaint states: “Due to the nature of Uraga’s actions and threats to Goodson and to innocent bystanders, and his past history of violence, stalking her and tracking her down physically and by other means such as electronic, telephonic or various ruses, Uraga was in the medical profession and well aware of Goodson’s clients, territory, schedule, and storage unit used for her supplies for Pfizer. Goodson was advised by the police to leave town and go into hiding.
     “Beginning May 24th and thereafter, Goodson has been in hiding, moving constantly and using only cash for purchases so that she could not be traced by Uraga. She has remained in this state of constant transit for her own protection and that of others around her.
     “After Uraga was arrested, Goodson immediately contacted her supervisor, Michelle Browne, on the evening of May 24th, and informed her as to what had occurred.
     Goodson specifically told Browne that she feared for her life and safety, the safety of
     those at her workplace, and the staff and patients of the accounts she called upon.
     Goodson also told Browne that because of the threat posed by Uraga, she would not be able to return to work for some time.”
     She says the company told her she could have 13 weeks of unpaid leave, but “company policy did not provide for protected leave (i.e., that there was no guarantee of protection of her position or job). They forwarded the General Leave Policy to Ms. Goodson at her request. The General Leave Policy does not provide protected leave and does not identify domestic violence in any manner.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
     “Pfizer did not inform Goodson that she qualified for protected leave based on domestic violence under Washington law, failed to provide Goodson with any policy for leave based on domestic violence, and did not extend any protected leave to Goodson as required by law,” the complaint adds.
     Uraga’s criminal was continued several times and Goodson was still in hiding when her unpaid leave ended. Pfizer fired her when her 13 weeks of leave ended and told her in intended to hire someone else for her job.
     “Goodman responded and clearly explained in writing to Pfizer that she intended to continue to work for Pfizer, but could not do so until it was safe for her, for Pfizer employees, and for those offices upon whom she called on for sales,” Goodson says.
     She adds: “Disregarding Goodson’s repeated reports of continued danger, Pfizer attempted to get her to return to work despite the unsafe conditions for her and others, and also attempted to get her to resign or retire. In the face of this pressure from Pfizer, Goodson repeatedly explained that it was still unsafe for her to return to work. …
     “In violation of the [Domestic Violence Leave] Act, Pfizer removed Goodson from her position. At all times, Goodson was still under threat and was unsafe, as were her co-workers, staff and patients at offices where she would call to sell Pfizer products.”
     Goodson says Pfizer characterized her termination as a “voluntary quit” and she could not get unemployment benefits and lost her health care coverage.
     She seeks reinstatement, lost earnings and damages for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress damages. She is represented by Victoria Vreeland of Gordon Thomas Honeywell in Seattle.

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