Cancer patient says Microsoft cut his job because he got sick



Posted on April 21, 2011 at 5:34 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 21 at 5:38 PM

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. -- A former Microsoft employee is suing the company, claiming managers eliminated his job after he got cancer and became too expensive for its health insurance.

Word of the suit comes just one day after another Microsoft worker accused the company of refusing to give him paid disability for surgery related to a brain tumor.

Duncan Sutherland thought he would retire from Microsoft. Now, he finds himself looking for a job at the age of 66.

When he was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago, Duncan says his position as a senior project manager was eliminated. He's suing Microsoft, claiming managers tied his job to performance appraisals that look at "contribution rankings."

According to the suit, such rankings determine how much Sutherland was expected to contribute to the company in the future. Sutherland believes a man in his 60s with cancer is of little "value" to Microsoft.

"How can I have a long-term contribution when most of the people I worked with were in their 30s and healthy. There was just a pervasive feeling that older people were expensive and sick people were more expensive," said Sutherland.

Sutherland's accusations come after we told you the story of Ken Knightley, who is being denied paid time off for brain surgery because Microsoft ties disability pay to performance appraisals. Knightley says his illness caused him to miss several weeks of work last year and that resulted in a negative performance appraisal. When he asked for paid disability, he was told company policy forbids paid leave for workers with less than stellar reviews.

Seattle employment attorney Stephen Teller says he has only heard of issues like this coming up at Microsoft and has been approached by several people claiming similar situations. He says Microsoft appears to be walking a dangerous line of discrimination against sick people.

"It's illegal to discriminate on the basis of a disability," said Teller. "What Microsoft is doing instead is saying, 'We're going to cut an employment benefit because you're not meeting our performance standard.'"

Sutherland not only lost his job, but his stock options and, ultimately, his house.

He says the way Microsoft treats its sick workers isn't healthy.

"It may be a business decision, but it doesn't treat people like people. That, I don't think, is right," he said.

KING 5 continues to hear from former Microsoft workers who have left the company after getting sick and being denied benefits. They are pleading with the company to change its policies or at least allow an appeals process.

Calls for comment to Microsoft Thursday were not returned.