Alberta mom sues Starbucks for 'wrongful dismissal,' says they 'confused' her cancer for COVID-19

Lisa Pederson worked with the company four years, calling it her 'dream job.' Unfortunately, that came to an end in April 2021 — one month before her cancer diagnosis.

Alberta mom sues Starbucks for 'wrongful dismissal,' says they 'confused' her cancer for COVID-19
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An Alberta mother is taking Starbucks Canada to court for confusing her cancer symptoms with COVID-19, which led to her dismissal from the company in 2021.

Lisa Pederson, a mother of three, worked at an Airdrie Starbucks for four years, where she worked hard and became a branch supervisor. She admired its culture and planned to work there until retirement.

Pederson called it her "dream job." 

Unfortunately, that came to an end in April 2021.

"You have to have three write-ups to be fired from Starbucks, so they did all three at once," she told Global News. "One for coming to work sick, one for not following COVID protocols and one for handling food while sick."

Pedersen said she never had COVID and attributes the mix-up to her cancer symptoms, which Starbucks, she says, mistook for the respiratory virus. 

Pedersen tested for COVID and forwarded the results to her boss but to no avail.

"I lost all of my benefits," she said. "They gave me one week to use my health benefits."

Pedersen used her remaining week to book optometry appointments for herself and her three children.

The optometrist noticed a spot on her eye and sent her for bloodwork, which tested positive for cancer. 

Pederson has been fighting a rare type of blood cancer called myeloproliferative neoplasm for the past two years. She continues to undergo chemotherapy treatments to contain the incurable disease.

The Airdrie mum claims the COVID-cancer mix-up resulted in her being fired without cause. Now she is taking her former employer to court.

"She was unfairly reprimanded due to symptoms believed to be COVID-19-related, when in fact it was blood cancer," said Aaron Levitin, Pederson's counsel and litigator at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP.

The Calgary law firm filed the wrongful dismissal suit against Starbucks Canada on behalf of their client. 

Unfortunately, it could take years before the suit is heard in court. She is focused on parenting her three kids, including one with special needs who requires 24/7 care.

Pedersen said she had a contingency in place for her three kids should the cancer progress, but those plans were kiboshed after Starbucks terminated her employment.

"I had a life insurance policy through Starbucks," she said. "I've lost that now, and I don't qualify for a new policy because you have to be cancer-free for five years, and there is no cure for my type of cancer."

Levitin said his client should spend time with her kids and focus on recovering rather than be bothered by ongoing litigation.

"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 said. "It's a tragic loss for her family [that] she can no longer qualify for life insurance."

Samfiru Tumarkin LLP filed a statement of claim as part of the suit, but Starbucks has filed no statement of defence in response.

None of the allegations concerning Pederson's dismissal have been proven in court.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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