Houston ISD staffer says she was fired for taking time off after husband diagnosed, died of cancer

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HOUSTONA Houston woman says she was fired from HISD after taking too many days off to deal with her husband’s terminal cancer diagnosis.

It’s been a challenging year for Consepcion Zapata, after losing her mom and husband of 42 years, just months of each other.

To pile on to her grief, Zapata learned this past Tuesday that she would now also lose her job.

Zapata had worked as a custodian at HISD’s Heights High School for the last 15 years.

“I lost my mom in March and my husband in September of this year. She had a stroke and my husband, he had cancer,” Zapata said.

RELATED: Houston ISD staff who take more than 15 days of leave could get fired, policy says

Zapata said she took about 20 days off in September when her husband was hospitalized.

Two weeks later, her husband passed away.

“I was his wife. I had to be there to sign papers and everything,” Zapata said.

Zapata says she returned to work the following Monday after her husband’s funeral.

Two months later, Zapata was fired.

This past Tuesday, she was called to a meeting with two HISD custodial managers who informed her she violated the district’s high-absenteeism policy when she took more than 15 days off.

As a result, Zapata was getting fired just weeks shy of Christmas, and just a year shy of her retirement.

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“I never miss work. I’m always there. So, I think it’s not fair what they’re doing to me,” Zapata said.

Zapata said she had accrued more than 400 hours of time off because of her tenure.

She says her supervisor had approved her off-day requests.

Zapata brought her daughter, Denise, with her to the meeting to help translate. “They started saying, I know this is wrong,” Denise said.

“I decided to record (the meeting) because I knew she had done nothing wrong. She was at the hospital. She had requested those days off as they asked, and they were approved,” Denise continued.

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In a cell phone recording of the meeting, an HISD official can be heard saying, “I’m no different than you. If God forbid something happened to me and you and I had to take the days, I’d be the one sitting in the chair, and they’d be doing it to me.”

A day before, HISD’s Chief Human Resource Officer Jessica Neyman spent 40 minutes answering FOX 26’s questions about the district’s absence policy.

On record, Neyman said, “We actually lawfully could engage in immediate termination of at-will employees, which includes the employee cohorts that you mentioned, such as bus drivers and nutrition service workers, and a myriad of support staff on campuses. We choose not to,” Neyman said.

The family says they’re now in the process of filing an appeal and hiring an attorney.

FOX 26 reached out to HISD for an updated response. As of early evening Thursday, we have not heard back.

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