An Alberta mother is suing Starbucks Canada after she claims the company confused her cancer symptoms with COVID-19, which ultimately led to her dismissal in 2021. Lisa Pederson, a mother of three, had worked at a Starbucks in Airdrie for four years and had worked her way up to become a branch supervisor. She loved her job and had planned to work there until retirement.
However, her dream job came to an abrupt end in April 2021. “You have to have three write-ups to be fired from Starbucks, so they did all three at once,” Pederson told Global News. “One for coming to work sick, one for not following COVID protocols, and one for handling food while sick.” Pederson insists that she never had COVID and believes her cancer symptoms were mistaken for the respiratory virus by Starbucks.
Despite testing negative for COVID and providing her test results to her boss, Pederson’s dismissal stood. She also lost all of her benefits, with only one week to use her health benefits before they were terminated. She used that remaining week to book optometry appointments for herself and her children. During one of these appointments, the optometrist noticed a spot on her eye, which led to a blood test that confirmed she had cancer.
Pederson has been battling a rare type of blood cancer called myeloproliferative neoplasm for the past two years and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments. She claims that the confusion between her cancer symptoms and COVID-19 led to her being fired without cause. As a result, she is taking legal action against Starbucks Canada.
Her counsel and litigator at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, Aaron Levitin, stated, “She was unfairly reprimanded due to symptoms believed to be COVID-19-related when, in fact, it was blood cancer.” The law firm has filed a wrongful dismissal suit on behalf of Pederson, but it could take years before the case is heard in court.
In the meantime, Pederson is focusing on raising her three children, one of whom has special needs and requires constant care. She had made contingency plans for her children in case her cancer worsened, but Starbucks terminating her employment disrupted those plans. Losing her life insurance policy through Starbucks further exacerbated the situation as she no longer qualified for a new policy due to the nature of her cancer.
Levitin commented on the situation, saying, “Starbucks needs to make the right decision and stand by its position that it is a conscientious employer that takes care of its partners.” He emphasized that it is a tragic loss for Pederson’s family, as she can no longer qualify for life insurance.
Samfiru Tumarkin LLP has filed a statement of claim as part of the lawsuit, but Starbucks has not yet responded with a statement of defense. It is important to note that none of the allegations regarding Pederson’s dismissal have been proven in court.
The legal battle continues, but Pederson’s priority remains her children and her recovery. She hopes that Starbucks will rectify the situation and acknowledge the mistake made regarding her cancer symptoms.