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Former Wells Fargo Employee Says Company Fired Him Over Daughter’s Cancer Costs

Crain Communications Inc., 8/17/12

Former Wells Fargo Employee Says Company Fired Him Over Daughter's Cancer Costs

Wednesday, August 15,2012

A former Wells Fargo & Co. mortgage consultant has accused the San Francisco-based bank of firing him in order to avoid paying for his daughter's cancer treatment.

According to a lawsuit filed Aug. 2 in a Florida Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Palm Beach, Wells Fargo fired Yovany Gonzalez in August 2010—three days before his daughter Mackenzie was scheduled for surgery to remove a cancerous tumor—based on allegations that he had falsified his time records. In his lawsuit, Gonzalez contends that the bank manufactured the fraud allegations as a means of ducking premium costs that would have resulted from his daughter's treatment.

Mackenzie Gonzalez's surgery was delayed for several months due to a lack of insurance coverage after Gonzalez's termination, according to the lawsuit. Mackenzie died of cancer-related complications in March 2011 at age 6.

"Wells Fargo terminated Mr. Gonzalez to avoid the need to further accommodate him in light of his daughter's illness and to avoid incurring additional expenses associated with her treatment," the lawsuit claims, adding that the company's accusation that he had tried to defraud the company's payroll system "was a mere pretext."

According to the suit, his daughter's treatment needs forced Gonzalez to work irregular hours, often away from his office at the company's Palm Beach branch. Between 2009 and 2010, Wells Fargo made several changes to its time records management system, including a new rule prohibiting employees from logging time previously worked.

Gonzalez said in his lawsuit that he was forced to ask a supervisor to input some of his hours for him, an action he claims the bank used as the basis for its fraud allegations.

Additionally, Gonzalez alleges that the bank purposefully delayed sending him information on extending health and life insurance benefits after his termination until after the extension opportunities had expired.

Gonzalez's lawsuit accuses the bank of disability discrimination under Florida civil rights laws, as well as defamation and breach of fiduciary duty. He is seeking punitive and compensatory damages, back pay and reinstatement of the life insurance policies held in Mackenzie's name prior to his termination.

A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo said the company offers health care coverage to more than 500,000 employees, and that "use of those benefits does not affect their employment at Wells Fargo."

"Mr. Gonzalez's termination was completely unrelated to his family's health care needs," the spokeswoman said. "The passing of Mr. Gonzalez's daughter was tragic. Our deepest sympathies go out to him and his family."

Prior to filing the suit, Gonzalez submitted his complaint against Wells Fargo to the state's Commission on Human Relations. According to court documents, the concluded that "reasonable cause exists to believe that an unlawful employment practice occurred."

Matt Dunning writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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