Lawsuit: Medical staff harassed, bullied Horry Co. employee over cancer treatment leave

Employees at an Horry County medical center harassed and denied a promotion to a woman who suffered breast cancer and a broken back, forcing her to quit her job, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court this week.

Barbara Maria Leonard filed the suit against her former employer Little River Medical Center after allegedly being harassed for months. She was forced to quit in February 2018, the lawsuit states.

Leonard, who started work as a customer service representative in 2014 at the South Strand location in Myrtle Beach, was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2015, the lawsuit states. She was hospitalized multiple times, including one visit when she broke her back, and had multiple surgeries, the suit states.

Due to surgeries and being hospitalized, Leonard missed work and was granted medical leave, according to the complaint.

Prior to becoming sick, Leonard received satisfactory performance evaluations at work, but after becoming sick, management “admonished” Leonard for too many absences and for being undependable, the lawsuit states.

Management allegedly made Leonard change or cancel doctor’s appointments because it interfered with work. The lawsuit states management also kept asking Leonard to come back to work after her back surgery before she was cleared by her doctor to return.

Unable to climb the stairs to the upstairs lunchroom, Leonard asked management if she could eat lunch at her desk, but management denied her request, which forced Leonard to eat lunch in her car, the lawsuit states.

She was also forced to park at the back of the facility where employees were required to park, but no handicap parking spaces were available, according to the lawsuit.

Employees and Leonard created a handicap sign to put at a park so Leonard could have a close space, the suit states. A person in management, who told Leonard to move her handicap parking spot farther away from the building, would wait in the parking lot in the morning, yelling that Leonard needed to move her spot, according to the complaint.

When there was a new opening for a customer service representative position that Leonard expressed interest in, management instead promoted one of the people who was harassing Leonard, the lawsuit states. Leonard asked management why she was not hired for the position, and Leonard was told she missed too much work dealing with her health issues, according to the lawsuit.

Leonard initially filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June 2018, alleging discrimination “based upon disability and/or perceived disability” and retaliation in the form of harassment, failure to promote and “termination/constructive discharge,” according to the lawsuit.

In May, Leonard received a rights to sue notice from the EEOC.

Celeste Bondurant-Bell, director of community development at Little River Medical Center, said the center has not received notice of the filing.

There are things you can do to lower your breast cancer risk – even at a young age.

The Sun News Reporter Hannah Strong is passionate about making the world better through what she reports and writes. Strong, who is a Pawleys Island native, is quick to jump on breaking news, profiles stories about people in the community and obituaries. Strong has won four S.C. Press Association first-place awards, including one for enterprise reporting after riding along with police during a homicide. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Winthrop University.