Multiple Sclerosis Elevated Treatment Expenses Blamed on Firings

It is not unusual for people to blame something over losing their jobs. However, two Alabamians in a bizarre case are blaming the high costs of treating multiple sclerosis (MS) conditions.

The two joined Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips to issue a press statement on August 14, 2018. McPhillips stated that these two cases are a part of a great concern about the challenges faced by people with MS who are not incapacitated in their jobs but need costly treatments.

The Alabama-Mississippi Chapter’s president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Andrew Bell, confirmed that the expenses of drugs used in the treatment of MS have increased considerably to an average of approximately $90,000 annually.

Bell further added that at least a million Americans have MS and almost 6,000 of them reside in Alabama. It was noted that most people with this condition are between ages 20 and 50 and desire to continue working.

In December 2016, Jennifer Akridge of Montgomery got fired at the age of 48 after working at Alfa Insurance for 27 years. She contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and went ahead to file a disability discrimination claim. Also, she filed a lawsuit as provided for by the constitution under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This case is still pending in the Montgomery federal court.

In 1989, Akridge started working for Alfa organization but was later diagnosed with MS in 1993 as documented in her lawsuit. She got named as the company’s employee of the year in 1995.

According to the lawsuit, her condition was known at the company, and she was entitled to an intermittent paid leave. She could do all her jobs and assignments in underwriting by partially working from home.

Since Alfa is self-insured, they were paying for her treatment that included getting MS shots at a monthly cost of $11,000. The company’s director of public relations and communications, Jeff Helms, declined to comment on the ‘pending litigation.’

Helms confirmed in a statement that Alfa does not practice, condone, or tolerate any discrimination based on age, race, gender, mental disability, color, national origin, religion, physical disability or creed.

A former manager of a Weyerhaeuser plant, Robert Doll, 50, of Conecuh County, thinks that he lost his job due to his MS condition. Robert said that he has worked for at least 28 years with nine of those being at Weyerhaeuser for two separate periods, from 2005 to 2010 and from 2013 to 2017.

Doll, who got diagnosed with MS in 2011, was re-hired by Weyerhaeuser to revamp a mill in Castleberry. The mill increased in productivity culminating at having a banner year in 2016. Doll confirmed that he told the company about his MS condition in 2015 after a fall incident during a plant tour in McComb, Mississippi.

Initially, the company accommodated him with his condition, but with the increased costs of treatment, he eventually got fired in November 2017. Doll stated in a press statement that he thinks he lost his job due to his limited mobility, the high cost of treatment; and the reluctance of his superiors to accommodate him with his condition at the workplace.

It is challenging for the disabled who lose their jobs to fight back since legal actions are expensive and they pose uncertain outcomes. Doll confirmed that he wanted to be the voice for all other individuals in the same predicament.

Weyerhaeuser’s director of government affairs, Nancy Thompson, stated that the company avoids making public comments about potential legal matters or personnel decisions.

According to McPhillips, it is challenging to get any relief via the court system in a reasonable time even with the stringent federal laws meant to protect the disabled workers. The reason for this occurrence is partly due to the defendant companies having the capabilities to slow down the court process.

McPhillips believes that it is an uneven field and he plans to seek an audience with state legislators and members of Congress about probable alterations to the law.