Sunday, September 18, 2011

Removing Photos of Deceased Daughter

Some of you may have read an article about a New Jersey mother who was forced to remove photos of her deceased daughter, Tatiana, from her cubicle at work, as well as Tatiana’s ballet slippers.

Tatiana was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 2003, but fought it into remission. Two years later the cancer returned and she eventually died in May of that year.

Cecelia Ingraham’s boss allegedly told her that several of her co-workers had complained about her tendency to talk about her daughter’s death, which made them uncomfortable. And he said she could “no longer speak of her daughter because she is dead” and should act as if her daughter ‘did not exist.’” The mother sued her workplace for discrimination, constructive discharge and intentional infliction of emotional stress.

The ruling was against the mother saying that the defendant, the pharmaceutical company she worked for, did not intentionally inflict emotional stress on the mother. “I was still in shock. Nothing was coming out of my mouth at the time because I was in disbelief,” Ingraham said. And I said to my boss, “I can’t believe that. I don’t see anybody avoiding me. They always come over, they give me my work.

Afterwards, Ingraham left work and didn’t come back. A few days later she had to have heart surgery for sudden heart palpitations. Soon after her recovery, she resigned from the job and entered the lawsuit.

The reason she lost the case: according to the presiding judge, the workplace is too complex to concretely narrow down motives. “The workplace has too many personal conflicts and too much behavior that might be perceived as uncivil for the courts to be used as the umpire for all but the most extreme workplace disputes,” said the court.

She then appealed, and in a ruling issued Aug. 25, state appellate Judge Victor Ashrafi, wrote, "There is no question that any reasonable employer should know that telling a grieving mother not to talk about her deceased daughter might cause emotional distress. But a severe reaction was not a risk that one should expect.

"The workplace has too many personal conflicts and too much behavior that might be perceived as uncivil for the courts to be used as the umpire for all but the most extreme workplace disputes," the judge said.

While a jury might consider that Ingraham's boss was "insensitive" and "negligent of plaintiff's vulnerability in her continuing bereavement," his behavior did not sink to the legal standard, the judge added.

Some reader reactions to this story:

“I was lucky to find love and compassion. I hope this Mom can rise above and find support outside of the workplace. To add resentment and unforgiveness to a heart already broken would be a terrible burden on her. Nicki

“I am very fortunate as my co-workers embraced me and I have pictures up in my cubicle of my beloved Kaitlyn. My work even let me take a course on how to survive grief. They were just wonderful.” Sue

“That was thoughtless and cruel. We need to talk about our children. That is what helps us cope everyday. Those heartless people should be more sensitive and have better understanding, particularly if they are parents too. It makes me fuming mad to know this happened.” Felix

“I, too, had trouble at my last job, my new boss told me to put it out of my mind, stop thinking about it…I was also told I was being let go because my employees didn’t fear me enough (since I cried in front of them, I showed weakness.” Sonya

“If she can’t have pictures of her dead daughter, then no one else should be allowed to have pictures of their living children either.” Cyndi

“Tragic…what a bunch of small minded and self-centered coworkers! I pray none of them ever suffers the loss of a child!” Debbie

“What people don’t understand, they criticize. What they fear, they attack.” Teresa

“A real healing, humanitarian position by a company that makes pharmaceuticals that are supposed to help people. How ignorant!” Peggy

"I do not think this woman should be fired, I think she should be able to have photos of her daughter in her cubicle within reason and the ballet slippers. I think to tell someone “your daughter is dead” is cruel, but I see the right and wrong with both sides here. Sorry for disagreeing with most of you."    Ann

“This happened to me also, but I was given the option to transfer to another department. There should be some laws protecting us from cruel punishment to grieving parents. Tara

“I was told not to talk about my daughter and to take my daughter’s pictures down. Then I was fired two months later, not that I was talking a lot, but they said the pictures were affecting my job performance.” Sherri

“I worked at a teaching hospital in the pediatrics department for 24 years, went to work there when Laurie was 1 year 2 months old. Took off two months after she died and my boss begged me to come back to work, said we could cry together, she didn't care if I just sat there and didn't do anything. Some people came by and said how sorry they were, others have never to this day said anything, but no one ever told me not to talk about my Laurie... I would have quit before I would be denied that right... Don’t they know that fearing that we will forget our child is the number one thing we worry about?” Laurie

“Cecelia…keep fighting, never give up!” Helen

If you have an opinion you’d like to express, whether you agree or disagree with the ruling, please comment, and I will print some of the comments and thoughts on another blog at a later date.

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