Five months ago, Rose Camilleri was a superstar at the Zales outlet at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets.
In November, the diminutive grandmother with an Italian accent was flown to Dallas, home of Zales’ headquarters, where she was honored with a 1-carat diamond necklace for making $1 million in sales last year.
It was the fifth diamond Camilleri had earned during 4½ years at Zales, where she received nearly a dozen commendations.
“I loved my work,” she said. “I loved the people, and I loved it when people came in and asked for me.”
But in early March, Camilleri developed bronchitis and went for a chest X-ray and an MRI. Her doctor discovered an aortic aneurysm, a weakness in the wall of the aorta, which, without prompt treatment, might rupture and cause quick death.
Camilleri told Zales she would need surgery as soon as possible.
“I told my manager I can’t get upset because it could explode any minute,” she said. “I typed up a letter asking for time off and guidance from human resources.”
One week later, on March 14, she was asked to attend a meeting with a new regional manager.
“He said, ‘You’re terminated,'” Camilleri recalled. “I tried to keep myself very calm because I knew something could happen to me. I said, ‘You’re joking — you’ve never been in my store.’ He said, ‘It’s the best thing.'”
It also meant Camilleri had to postpone her March 26 surgery until she could convert her insurance to a self-pay plan known as COBRA.
Two weeks later, Camilleri had not even received the paperwork.
Her son e-mailed the Times Herald-Record.
“We are told that it could take up to 45 days,” Charles Camilleri wrote. “I lay awake every night fearing the worst.”
Contacted by the Record, Zales would not comment. Charles Camilleri called Zales’ human resources, explaining it was a life-or-death matter, and he simply needed a fax from Zales to start the COBRA process. He was floored by the employee’s response.
“She said, “Well, if the surgery was rescheduled, then it’s probably not a life-or-death situation,” Charles Camilleri recalled. “I absolutely was blown away.”