Kidney donor files lawsuit over firing

Deborah Stevens, who donated a kidney to her

Deborah Stevens, who donated a kidney to her boss at Long Island's largest automotive dealership, claims she was fired in retaliation for complaining about the way the company treated her following the transplant surgery, speaks out at her attorney's office in Garden City. (April 23, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

A Hicksville woman has filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was wrongly fired after she donated a kidney so her ailing supervisor could move up on the national organ donation list.

Deborah Stevens, 48, said in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on Tuesday that Jacqueline Brucia, her boss at Atlantic Automotive Group in West Islip, asked her to donate a kidney on her behalf to the National Kidney Registry, a donation that meant that Brucia would get a kidney in return.

But Stevens said even before she recovered from the surgery, Brucia, 62, turned on her, chiding her when she went home from work sick or when she needed to take extra bathroom breaks during the day, according to the complaint.

The auto dealership did not immediately return a telephone call for comment Friday morning. The firm had issued a statement in April 2012, when Stevens first indicated she might sue, saying the claim was baseless.

"It is unfortunate that one employee has used her own generous act to make up a groundless claim. Atlantic Auto treated her appropriately, and acted honorably and fairly at every turn," the statement said.

Stevens said in the complaint that she donated her left kidney in August 2011 and returned to work less than a month later. Stevens said as soon as she returned from the painful and debilitating surgery, Brucia, who was recovering at home after receiving her kidney, began berating her for taking time off, and that she was eventually transferred to the Hempstead office and later fired.

The lawsuit said the company had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and state human rights law by failing to make reasonable accommodations that would have allowed Stevens to recover from the surgery. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and attorney fees.

The state Division of Human Rights conducted hearings and issued an opinion last Oct. 18 finding probable cause that the defendants had "engaged in the unlawful discriminatory practices complained of," the court papers said.

An attorney for Stevens, Rick Ostrove of Carle Place, said Friday in an interview that the agency granted a request that the state action be dismissed so she could file the lawsuit, rather than continue before a state hearing officer.

"We are very confident a jury will side with us," Ostrove said.

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