Frank, David, Katherine Hwang And Jean Hwang Carrant
Special to the San Francisco Chronicle
When Judge Neil Gorsuch ruled against our family member battling cancer, Grace Hwang, almost three years ago, his decision was heartless. It removed the human element from the equation. It did not bring justice.
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. Given how Gorsuch ruled as a federal circuit judge, he should not be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Grace was mother to two of us and sister to the other two. After coming to America from Taiwan at a young age, Grace grew up to become a fighter for the rights of minorities and women. She always kept an upbeat, positive attitude, no matter how hard things became. She died last summer at age 60.
Grace had a passion for justice. We saw this throughout her life when she was a political science undergrad at Kansas State University, a Fulbright scholar in Sweden, a law student at Georgetown University, a corporate lawyer and board member of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, a parent and, after returning to Kansas, a successful fundraiser of millions of dollars for the Kansas State University Foundation and a professor there.
Grace was in her early 50s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It came as a huge shock to her and to us, who considered Grace invincible. She got treatment, and finally her doctors said she was in remission.
Then came several episodes of poor health, a couple of misdiagnoses, and ultimately, the doctors said Grace had leukemia. She was teaching leadership studies at the time (she was passionate about that, too) and underwent a stem cell transplant. Even when she was in the hospital, she was in contact with fellow teachers and students.
Grace had a six-month paid leave from work. She wanted to go back to work afterward, but her doctors advised her not to because there was a flu epidemic on campus and her immune system was compromised. So she asked for her sick leave to be extended. The university rejected that request and said she couldn’t work from home either.
Grace lost her job. We felt the university had betrayed our trust.
But Grace wasn’t a quitter. She sued Kansas State. Her complaint said the university had violated the law because federal law says people with disabilities must be reasonably accommodated at work. In May 2014, Gorsuch sided with Kansas State.
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.” He said that Grace’s six months of leave were “more than sufficient,” and that attendance was a basic expectation of employees. 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.
When she heard about the court’s ruling, she couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t either.
Our hearts were broken by the way our justice system failed Grace. Key to that failure was the ruling written by Gorsuch, with its callous disregard for Grace and her condition. We don’t want other people facing disabilities to suffer in the same way. We need judges who will think about the real people at the center of cases such as Grace’s, more than anything else.
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.
David and Katherine Hwang are Grace Hwang’ s children. Frank Hwang and Jean Hwang Carrant are her siblings.
“... 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.”