Communal Activist Fired While Fighting for Her Life

A firestorm has erupted in the American Jewish media over the firing of Marla Gilson, a long-time communal activist, when her employer – the Washington DC based Association of Jewish Aging Services (AJAS) – decided her leukemia diagnosis would not allow her to fulfill her job responsibilities. And here, once again, we witness a situation where the Jewish world’s leadership shows lack of sensitivity to Jewish values as it relates to their own employees.

AJAS, unfortunately, is not alone. Far to many of our communal organizations regularly forget that employees are their lifeline and not tiles to move around the Mahjong board.

Steve Rabinowitz, a major player in the Jewish nonprofit public relations field, [referring to how AJAS handled Gilson’s termination] said, “I don’t know how you treat anyone like this.”

Here’s a sampling of what the media is saying.

from The Forward:

Jewish Nursing Home Association’s Jewish Values Face Test When New CEO Falls Ill

Marla Gilson is a well-known face in Jewish advocacy circles. A long time head of Hadassah’s Washington office and an alumni of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the federation system, Gilson was recruited last June to head the Association of Jewish Aging Services (AJAS), an umbrella organization for 110 Jewish nursing homes and facilities for the elderly.

But Gilson’s term as president and CEO of the group abruptly ended recently, when AJAS fired her after she fell ill.

In December, Gilson was diagnosed with leukemia, a life-threatening form of cancer that attacks blood cells. She began intensive treatment that included chemotherapy and is now awaiting a bone marrow transplant procedure.

from The Jewish Week:

Marla Gilson’s plight

Somehow you expect more from Jewish organizations when it comes to relations with employees – who, after all, are mostly in it because they care about communal causes, not because of the big paychecks and great benefits.

from Washington Jewish Week:

Diagnosed, dumped – Activist fired while fighting for life

On March 1 – just six days days before the inaugural marrow registration session took place – Gilson learned that she had been fired from her job due to illness-related issues.

As explained by her employer, Gilson was being terminated, effective April 26, because her ability to do her job had been compromised by her illness. Gilson had proposed temporary workplace accommodations that, she maintained, might enable her to perform her duties while recovering from a planned bone-marrow transplant, but those were rejected by AJAS. The organization went on to conclude in its March 1 letter that because “it is clear that you are unable to meet your contractual obligations,” AJAS “is compelled to terminate your employment.”

from JTA:

For Marla Gilson, leukemia sparks massive Jewish bone marrow drive – and fight with employer

A bone marrow match was found for Gilson, who is now in remission. She is scheduled to undergo a bone marrow transplant next month.

from The Washington Post:

Md. leukemia patient who was fired from job plans to sue ex-employer

Gilson plans to file a discrimination lawsuit against the association, her friends said.

Her firing might run afoul of District laws, legal experts said. The D.C. Human Rights Act considers cancer a disability and also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled, including granting unpaid leave for treatment and restructuring job functions.