The family of a former KSU employee involved in a wrongful termination lawsuit have published a letter this week in the San Francisco Chronicle criticizing Neil Gorusch, the federal judge who ruled on the case and current nominee for the Supreme Court.
Grace Hwang was employed as a professor at Kansas State University from 1994 to 2012. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and then leukemia. In 2009, she sought and the university gave her six months of paid sick leave. As that period drew to a close, her doctor advised her to stay home longer because of her compromised immune system.
The university refused to approve more leave but arranged for her to receive long-term disability benefits. Hwang alleged that this effectively terminated her employment. She filed a lawsuit contending that by denying her more than six months’ sick leave the university violated the Rehabilitation Act.
The district court dismissed her claim, and the case went to the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Gorusch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the open Supreme Court seat, was one of three judges who dismissed
Hwang’s cas in 2014.
Hwang died last summer at the age of 60. Four of her relatives — her children David and Katherine Hwang and siblings Frank Hwang and Jean Hwang Carrant — wrote in the Chronicle that Gorusch’s decision was “heartless” and failed their family.
“This total lack of a human perspective is absolutely not what we want to see in a judge, and we find it disturbing, especially when you think about the power a judge has to affect people’s lives,” they wrote. “Given how Gorsuch ruled as a federal circuit judge, he should not be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
They write about Hwang’s efforts to bring justice to others, especially minorities and women, as a Fulbright scholar, a lawyer for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and then a fundraiser and professor at K-State.
The family wrote that when officials denied Hwang additional leave, “We felt the university had betrayed our trust.”
“In writing his decision, Gorsuch said the purpose of federal law is ‘not to turn employers into safety net providers for
those who cannot work.’ ... But Grace wasn’t asking for a vacation. She was asking for what the law provides: a reasonable accommodation so she could work from home instead of going to campus and potentially dying.” They said they don’t want other people with disabilities to suffer as Hwang did.
“We need judges who will think about the real people at the center of cases such as Grace’s, more than anything else,” they wrote. “Judge Gorsuch does not appear to be that kind of person. For our family, it would be very disheartening to see him granted a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.”
Other publications have mentioned the ruling on Hwang’s case during the course of Gorusch’s consideration for the Supreme Court. An article by the Associated Press in February cited the case and said he often has sided with employers in such instances.