When Michelle DeLaVergne's husband, Donald, died of pancreatic cancer in July 2011 after a five-year battle, she and her two daughters, Alexus and Miranda decided they wanted to do something to honor his memory while also helping to fight the disease. They settled on raising money through a pancreatic cancer walk, sponsored by the Lustgarden Foundation.
Oct. 14 marked the second time the family would participate in the walk, only DeLaVergne wasn't there — she said her employer, the Hampton Bays School District, wouldn't allow her to switch her regular 8-hour shift to Saturday so she could participate in the walk on Sunday.
"My heart just hurts," said DeLaVergne, a five-year-custodian with the district, who said she can't understand why the district was so supportive during her husband's cancer battle and during the last walk, but not this time.
Asked for a comment, Superintendent Lars Clemensen said it is the district's policy not to discuss personnel issues.*
DeLaVergne said she verbally requested a shift swap on Oct. 2. Then, on Oct. 11 she received a counseling memo from her supervisor, reading, "This is a counseling memo due to your inappropriate conduct during a recent custodial meeting. At the end of the meeting, you asked if you could switch your scheduled day to Saturday to Sunday. Your Head Custodian asked for you to put in writing. In front of the entire staff, you said, 'it doesn't matter if you approve it or not, I will just call in sick.'"
DeLaVergne, however, ended up not calling in sick.
"I am just so hurt. I'm trying to raise money for a cure, yet I am penalized with this horrible counseling memo. I wasn't taking a day off to party. It was for a good cause," said DeLaVergne, adding that when requesting to switch days, staff have never been required to submit a written request, only for use of vacation days.
So, on Sunday, DeLaVergne said she reported to her post at the middle school, while her daughters walked, raising $4,500 for the Lustgarden Foundation and then visited their father's grave.
"I couldn't stop crying," said DeLaVergne, "but I know my husband knew I was there in spirit."
*After publication, Clemsensen added, "While the district does not comment on personnel matters, it does disagree with the employee’s representation of the facts in this situation."
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