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November 30, 2001
Woman Fired For Donating Kidney
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cy Bevilacqua, assistant manager of a clothing store in Silverdale, Wash., was fired last month for deciding that saving her mother's life was more important than her job.

Bevilacqua had asked for time off so she could donate a kidney to her dying mother.

Her employer, Christopher & Banks, said no.

"I was devastated," Bevilacqua told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "I couldn't believe a corporation would do that."

Christopher & Banks cited restrictions in the Family and Medical Leave Act as the reason for its refusal. Bevilacqua claims it had more to do with keeping her store staffed during the busy Christmas season.

Bevilacqua had told company officials before they hired her in January that she was going through a testing process in hopes of donating one of her kidneys to her mother, Sharon Kibler.

The store's manager not only hired her anyway but rallied co-workers to help cover her position in July, the anticipated date for the transplant.

Then the 62-year-old Kibler, who was not tolerating dialysis well, started failing. The surgery was deemed too risky and was canceled at the last minute.

But then came a surprise: Kibler restabilized - enough so to withstand the transplant surgery.

"We were emotional basket cases, we were so excited," Bevilacqua told the P-I. "Everyone in the vicinity was getting a hug."

The next plunge in the roller-coaster ride came six days before the surgery, when her boss told her she was fired.

"I was aghast and shaken up," Bevilacqua said. "To go from one extreme to another . . ."

The decision had come from corporate headquarters in Minnesota.

"Allowing the leave could have created a precedent whereby other leaves not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which were denied, could have resulted in a perception of discrimination," said John Prange, vice president of human resources for the 353-store chain. "We empathize with her situation."

Headquarters informed Bevilacqua that her leave was denied because she hadn't worked long enough to qualify for FMLA benefits. Bevilacqua had worked there just under 10 months, and the law requires at least one year.

Bevilacqua said she asked the company why it had granted her leave the first time the transplant was scheduled. The response, according to her, was this: "That was July. This is the Christmas season."

Prange didn't dispute that account, according to the P-I. Last summer, he said, "business staffing needs were less critical."

Bevilacqua pleaded for an exception, telling Christopher & Banks that her mother's life was literally on the line. The company said it couldn't oblige.

At the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, which performed the transplant, the medical staff expressed outrage over the firing.

"This sends an unbelievably negative message. Giving a kidney is a tremendous gift to society as well as a gift to the individual," said Dr. William Marks, who heads up the transplant service and is also medical director of LifeCenter Northwest, the regional organ-procurement agency.

"All of us were just shocked when we realized the implications," he said.

Despite the turmoil, Bevilacqua's mother got her transplant on Oct. 15.

"It's made a new person out of me," Kibler said. "I feel more alive than I have in years. It's really unbelievable."

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