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Woman Claims Firm Fired Her To Avoid Paying Medical Bills

A young Spokane Valley nurse is in federal court this week, alleging an insurance company fired her for having a potentially fatal neurological disease.

Sharon L. Arger, 30, of Veradale, claims Medical Service Corp. of Spokane wanted to avoid paying upward of $1 million in doctor bills.

In court papers, the company denies all of Arger’s allegations, including that she was harassed and embarrassed for being ill with Syringomyelia, a rare disease that affects the spinal cord. The company maintains she was fired for being inept.

Arger was to earn $24,000 a year reviewing customers’ medical bills and as a nurse underwriter, but was fired in September 1993 after five months.

Her attorneys, Jeffrey Supinger and Timothy Lawlor, are suing for back pay and benefits, future earnings, damages for emotional distress and mental anguish, damages for defamation of her character, and costs and lawyer fees.

Their lawsuit states the amount of damages will be proven during the jury trial.

“That spunky, confident, takecharge person is not there anymore,” testified Arger’s mother, Julie LaPointe.

Medical Service attorney James Kalamon declined to comment Wednesday, but said he is anxious for jurors to hear his case, including coworkers who will testify against Arger.

Arger testified Wednesday and explained her duties and her solid job performance appraisal after two months.

She will resume her testimony today.

She is undergoing treatment for a disorder of the spinal cord that attorney Lawlor said can be fatal.

According to the company, Arger was fired for unsatisfactory job performance, inappropriate dress and personal appearance, illegible handwriting, unprofessional conduct and misfiling patient documents, court papers state.

Arger’s attorneys are suing in federal court because they say Medical Service violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Rehabilitation Act. They also maintain their client’s state civil rights were violated.

Medical Service has 200 employees and gets some federal money through Medicare payments.

Senior Vice President John Carlson testified that Arger never gained full-time status because her 90-day probationary period was extended twice for a month each.

The main reason was for five medical absences - two days in May for bronchitis and three days for undergoing diagnostic tests. Doctors first believed Arger had multiple sclerosis because she experienced numbness in her legs and then incontinence.

“We expected zero (sick) days. She had a track record of that,” Carlson said. “We had concerns about her ability to perform and be at work on time.”

The lawsuit states that Arger’s superior, Bill Bauman, aggravated her bladder-control problems by forcing her to consult two co-workers before going to the only bathroom - up a flight of stairs and down a long hallway.

“These restrictions resulted in physical pain, embarrassment and accidents,” the suit states.

Arger testified she quit hospital nursing because she was a single mother who hated working nights and weekends. She has since remarried.

She took a pay cut - from $18 an hour to about $11.50 - for a chance to work normal hours. But she was so financially pressed, she also worked some weekends as a temporary registered nurse.

The big prize, she said, was a promised raise after the probation period passed and full benefits, including health coverage. Arger had been paying more than $200 a month for medical coverage.

“The 90th day was the big day for me. I thought I could lose that second job,” Arger testified. “I thought me and my little girl would be on an insurance policy.”

Instead, the company delayed her probation by two months and then fired her the next time she had to leave work sick, the lawsuit states.

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