Who is Sharon Arger?
Is she an incompetent, arrogant, angry employee who deserved to be fired from a Spokane insurance company?
Or is she a soft-spoken, brilliant, benevolent soul who was canned for having the misfortune of contracting an expensive and potentially deadly disease?
A Spokane federal court jury will return next week to continue wrestling with the Arger paradox.
The 30-year-old Veradale resident took her lawsuit to trial Monday against Medical Service Corp. for allegedly violating her civil rights, as well as federal and state laws that protect the disabled.
She has syringomyelia, a rare disease that has left a bubble in her spinal cord and could prove fatal.
Her attorneys, Jeff Supinger and Tim Lawlor, contend the company kept Arger on probation and then fired her rather than face a bottomless pit of medical bills. They’re suing for undetermined back pay, future earnings and punitive damages.
Arger, a highly trained intensive care nurse, was hired in April 1993 to review insurance claims and underwrite patients. She was fired in September 1993.
“My feeling is that she (Arger) wasn’t competent in her job,” said former co-worker Sandra Rowe, who testified she complained to managers about Arger repeatedly. “She was very volatile.”
Another co-worker, Karen Redfern, testified she liked Arger personally but not her slovenly habits and how Arger blew at least two hours a day on the phone for personal business or balancing her checkbook.
Arger and her attorneys laughed aloud.
Telephone logs subpoenaed as evidence indicate Arger, a single mother at the time, spent only minutes a day making any outgoing calls, her attorneys said.
And Arger’s shortcomings were not documented by the company until near the end, the evidence showed.
Medical Service attorneys Jim Kalamon and Mike Love sought through testimony of co-workers to show Arger was so haphazard she couldn’t even file patient records in alphabetical order.
Redfern said Arger filed the A’s under the Z’s and vice versa.
She and others testified that Arger just didn’t fit into the MSC culture of professionalism, in which callers are dealt with courteously and that employees, at all times, are an extension of the company and should behave accordingly.
Co-workers said they were turned off by Arger’s work station, where she hung pictures of her beloved greyhound dogs and her daughter’s paintings.
At the end, Arger stepped over the line by diagnosing a co-worker’s headache as a brain tumor and urging her to seek emergency help at a hospital, Rowe testified.
“I never heard so many lies under oath in my life,” Arger whispered audibly to one of her attorneys.
Her lawyers repeatedly referred to company documents that stated Arger grasped tasks quickly and was considerably faster at the job than predecessors.
They painted an image of Arger as smarter and younger than her colleagues and the object of their jealousy.
Her only failing were five medical absences - two for bronchitis and three for being diagnosed with what originally was thought to be multiple sclerosis, they said.
“Illness is not acceptable during probationary employment,” said Rowe, who is now a supervisor.
At one point, testimony bogged down over nylon hose.
Co-workers testified that Arger occasionally wore sandals with no hose.
Her attorney, Lawlor, suggested that tanned legs in clear hose - a color called nude - would give the appearance of not wearing stockings.
The nylon debate did not amuse federal Judge Frem Nielsen.
He closed the trial for the weekend with an admonition: “Get on with it.”