Doctor defends laying off employee with cancer after social media storm

Posted at 8:45 PM, Sep 14, 2014

(CNN) – A Pennsylvania oral surgeon laid off a cancer-stricken employee had good intentions – aiming to help the woman get unemployment benefits and focus on her treatment – but now is getting threats and verbal attacks on social media, according to the doctor’s lawyer.

“Dr. (George) Visnich put (employee Carol Jumper) on layoff status so this poor woman didn’t have to worry about showing up at work after going through chemo, and would still have a source of income,” Larry Kelly, Visnich’s family attorney, told CNN. “He never fired her. Ever.”

In a handwritten letter to Jumper dated the day of the layoff, Visnich wrote: “You will not be able to function in my office at the level required while battling for your life. Because of this, I am laying you off without pay as of August 11, 2014.”

Visnich also assured Jumper her job awaits her whenever she is ready to return to work, Kelly said.

But the letter became public and quickly went viral.

A Facebook friend identified as Rose Lerini reportedly posted a photo of the letter on Facebook, triggering a social media uproar. It’s unclear what relationship she has to Jumper or Visnich, and attempts to reach Lerini were unsuccessful.

Multiple attempts to reach Jumper on Friday also were unsuccessful.

Kelly said Visnich and his family are distraught.

The doctor — who has oral surgery offices in the western Pennsylvania towns of Aliquippa, Chippewa, and New Castle — is receiving hateful phone calls, emails, and threats, and being called “heartless,” “brutal,” “soulless,” and other names on social media, he said.

“This poor man is being tortured unnecessarily,” Kelly said. “The guy tried to do something to help this woman in the best way he knew how, and this is his payback.”

According to the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law, a person who is or becomes unemployed qualifies for compensation if he or she “is able to work and available for work.”

According to Kelly, Visnich and Jumper have been in contact as recently as Friday. It was not clear what sort or how extensive that contact was.

People describing themselves as friends of Jumper created a private Facebook group called “Bumper’s Buddies” on August 26 to “support Carol in her fight against the disease and to keep everyone posted on progress.”

The group’s administrators post about upcoming charity events and is selling $12 T-shirts to raise money for Jumper’s medical expenses. As of Friday night, the group claimed almost 2,000 members.

Meanwhile, a community Facebook group called “George Visnich Oral Surgery” stated its purpose as a “support page for Dr. George Visnich. It is an American right to let employees go at will.”

The group also posted a link to the “Bumper’s Buddies” Facebook page, writing: “This is for all of you bleeding hearts. Go on and send her some of your own money.”