- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

The woman who founded the Florida-based Multiple Sclerosis Foundation Inc. has sued the charity, claiming it illegally fired her because she has MS.

But Jules Kuperberg, national director of MSF, a $4 million-a-year nonprofit, tax-exempt education and service organization, vehemently denies Marilyn Manning-Albrecht's disability was the reason she was terminated in July 2000.

"There is absolutely no merit to this lawsuit this is preposterous a business decision was made her position was phased out," Mr. Kuperberg said yesterday in a telephone interview from MSF's national headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.

The lawsuit, filed last month on her behalf in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, charges that Mrs. Manning-Albrecht was "wrongfully" fired from MSF "solely by reason of her disability." The complaint says she is a "handicapped individual" and that MSF is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

As a "direct result of MSF's wrongful and illegal termination" of Mrs. Manning-Albrecht, she was "without means of income or employment, and she remains unemployed at present," the suit says.

But Mr. Kuperberg countered: "In the trial, we'll show these accusations of wrongdoing are not true our mission is to help people with MS." Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative neurological disease caused when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks nerve fibers. Symptoms can include paralysis, impaired memory, and difficulty talking and walking.

Mr. Kuperberg said 25 persons work at MSF's national office in Fort Lauderdale, including "six or seven" with MS. Included in that group, he said, are both paid staffers and volunteers.

Reached yesterday at her home, Mrs. Manning-Albrecht, who founded MSF in 1986, referred all questions to her attorney, Bruce E. Rosenberg, who is in Prescott, Ariz.

Mr. Rosenberg, in a telephone interview, acknowledged there are people with MS still working at the foundation. But he stands by the claim that Mrs. Manning-Albrecht's medical condition was the reason she lost her $400-a-week paycheck at MSF.

"Part of the problem is that Marilyn has never gotten any explanation as to why she was terminated," said Mr. Rosenberg.

But he said he's seen paperwork that the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation provided Florida state unemployment officials that he said stated Mrs. Manning-Albrecht was "unable to fulfill the requirements of her job." He was unable to locate that document yesterday.

Mr. Rosenberg also said his client "eventually got unemployment after fighting" her initial denial.

In an interview published Wednesday in the Miami Daily Business Review, the Arizona lawyer was quoted as saying: "They said she was unable to perform the duties of her position. From a legal standpoint, if someone is otherwise qualified to do their job, and you believe they can't because of their disability, before you can fire them, you are supposed to offer them reasonable accommodations. They made no such offer."

Mr. Kuperberg denies that the foundation did anything to prevent Mrs. Manning-Albrecht from obtaining unemployment compensation. "We felt she was entitled to unemployment that we were liable for it," he said.

Another foundation source said state officials raised concerns because Mrs. Manning-Albrecht identified her former job at MSF as "founder."

MSF officials dispute Mrs. Manning-Albrecht's account of the duties she performed for the foundation. Mr. Rosenberg said she wrote the "From Our Founder" column in a quarterly magazine called MS Focus. "She also did peer counseling and information and referral for a toll-free number seven days a week and did research to try to keep up on new MS treatments," he said.

Mr. Kuperberg said her primary responsibilities were writing "a column that appeared four times a year and handling inquiries the column would generate." For that, she received "generous" pay, he said.

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