Fighting breast cancer should have been her only battle. Instead, Jacquelyne Froeber, the former editor of Celebrated Living, is now fighting her former employers.
She recently filed a lawsuit against her employers, American Airlines and Ink Publishing Corp., for breach of contract. Then she followed it with a discrimination complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division, claiming Ink Publishing had terminated her employment because she had breast cancer.
“It’s tough dealing with something like this and cancer,” Froeber says. “I’d rather focus my energy on getting better instead of dealing with this.”
In her lawsuit filed in late September in a Dallas County district court, Froeber claims breach of contract because she had entered into an agreement with American Airlines and Ink on Aug. 8, 2014, that required a term of five years to maintain offices both in Miami and Dallas. Nearly two years later, Ink Publishing announced it was closing its Dallas office.
Froeber is seeking unspecified amount of money within the jurisdictional limits of the court, including lost wages and benefits, consequential damages and reimbursement for attorney’s fees.
Ink Publishing couldn’t be reached for comment, but American Airlines claims Froeber’s case is baseless.
Froeber was only 33 when she was diagnosed. People have told her that she was “very” young to be diagnosed. She found the lump herself in late June. She was putting on her sports bra to take her pugs for a walk when she felt the lump. She froze and somehow knew her “next breath, blink and heartbeat would never be the same.”
“I was certain it wasn’t a normal thing,” she says.
She wanted desperately to rewind and go back, become “blissfully ignorant about the war zone in my body and focus appropriate concern on grabbing a coffee and taking my pugs for a walk,” she wrote in her final editorial for Celebrated Living. “But I knew in my heart, and I knew from friends with breast cancer, that you don’t hide from something that scares you. Fear doesn’t have a face. Survivors do.”
Discovering the lump in her breast caught her off guard. Life had been good. She moved to Texas to work as editor of Celebrated Living, a publication by American Way and Ink Publishing. She lived in a nice apartment with a couple of dogs.
Her gynecologist ordered a mammogram. A biopsy followed. It took a week to receive her official diagnosis. “I feel really lucky,” she says. “Stage 3 means it hasn’t metastasized to other parts of my body. Mine has not spread to my bones or brain or other organs, which is why we started chemotherapy.”
But chemotherapy is the reason Froeber says she feels her employer, Ink Publishing, discriminated against her.
Shortly after she received her breast cancer diagnosis in late June, Froeber learned Ink Publishing was moving her job to a new office in Miami. Despite receiving multiple industry awards for her work as an editor, she would also need to reapply for her position. She wasn’t the only one, either.
Ink Publishing also produces American Way and Nexos in-flight magazines for American Airlines, and the employees from both publications were also asked to reapply for their positions.
Daniel Bree, who handles PR for Ink Publishing, told D Magazine in early July that the publishing company wasn’t facing an uncertain future but simply planned to invest in the Miami office. They expect to triple staff there and she said they hoped “our successful editorial colleagues will consider moving with us to Miami.”
Everyone except for Froeber, it seems.
In her discrimination claim filed with the Texas Workforce Civil Rights Division in September, Froeber claims Ink Publishing learned of her breast cancer diagnosis on June 24. Six days later, her employer informed her that they were moving her job to Miami and that she would need to reapply for her position.
“I was already qualified for my position and had received multiple industry awards,” Froeber wrote in her discrimination claim. “I informed Ink that I was willing to move to Miami at my own expense.”
Froeber interviewed for her editor position again on Aug. 2. When her employer informed her that they were closing down the office, she had a full head of blond hair. Now she was showing substantial hair loss from her chemotherapy treatments.
Froeber says she’d put together a PowerPoint presentation and highlighted her and her team’s accomplishments since she’d taken over the magazine two years earlier. She reminded her employer about the Folio Award the magazine had earned for best design and a couple of other awards her team had won under her tenure. She says she’d been told that she was running the most profitable magazine in the company’s portfolio, but she says she still pointed out ways the magazine could grow stronger.
A few days later, she says her employer called her and said she’d done a good job. She learned that her contract would continue until Dec. 31, when she would be evaluated again to determine if their relationship would continue.
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“That seemed a little strange,” Froeber says. “I thought I was running a great magazine. I was happy to move to Miami even though it would be on my own dime. They were not offering relocation. Salary wouldn’t increase, though the cost of living in Miami is more expensive than Dallas.”
A couple weeks later, she learned that after an internal discussion, her employer would not be providing her with an objective criteria to measure her performance. Instead her employment would end on Sept. 30. They did offer a freelance contract until the end of the year. It was a contract that required her to grant permission for use of her photograph prior to her chemotherapy.
In the discrimination complaint, Froeber claimed she was told that Ink terminated her because of her quality of work. She argued that it wasn’t a credible reason because her work was highly regarded by the industry. She also didn’t receive an objective criteria to measure quality as promised.
“I asked what had changed and what was different,” she says. “They didn’t have a reason. If you had a problem in the work, why wouldn’t it have been been brought up? Why would they tell me they wanted to move forward with the evaluation?”