Reasonable Accommodation

Happy National Waiters and Waitresses Day!

old school waiter photo

Today is National Waiters and Waitresses Day. To commemorate, check out this blog about the top ten wage violations in the restaurant industry written by founder Louis Pechman, featured on the Huffington Post.

Mario Batali Market Sued For Disability Discrimination

tarry market

Tarry Market, a specialty foods store in Port Chester, New York owned by restaurateurs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, has been sued by a former employee who alleges that she was discriminated against and ultimately fired due to her physical disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and New York Human Rights Law.

Ivana Hidalgo claims in a federal court Complaint that Tarry Market managers denied her requests for reasonable accommodations and terminated her because of her disability. Hidalgo was involved in a serious car accident requiring surgery that left the bones in one leg more than an inch shorter than the other leg. Hidalgo requested that she sometimes be able to sit or rest against a stool while working, an accommodation that managers originally agreed to but then disallowed, stating that employees should not be sitting at work. The complaint alleges that Hidalgo continued working after her stool was taken away, even though she was in pain, but after missing work due to illness exacerbated by the company’s lack of accommodations, she was fired.

The lawsuit seeks lost wages as well as compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.

Lawsuit Filed Against Bojangles Restuarant for Firing Muslim Who Refused to Cut His Beard

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A Bojangles’ restaurant violated the discrimination laws when it failed to accommodate a Muslim employee’s religious beliefs and then fired him because of his religion, according to a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According to the EEOC’s discrimination lawsuit, Devin Charles has been a practicing Muslim for the past 14 years. As a male Muslim member of his sect of the Sunni branch of the Islamic faith, Charles is required to grow and maintain a beard and is not allowed to trim or cut his beard unless it exceeds the length of his fist when holding his beard in his closed hand under his chin, commonly referred to as “fist length.” In accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs, Charles has not trimmed or cut his beard unless it exceeded a fist length.

Attorneys for the EEOC claimed in the lawsuit that Charles applied for a job with a Bojangles’ restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina and on May 17, 2012, he was interviewed by a Bojangles’ restaurant manager for a food prep position. After the interview, the manager of the restaurant informed Charles that he might need to cut his beard, to which Charles responded that he could not cut his beard for religious reasons, informing her that he was a Muslim. Charles was hired and worked at the restaurant on May 18 without incident.

However, on the following day, the manager instructed Charles that her supervisor, the district manager, had come to the restaurant, seen Charles’ beard and instructed her to tell Charles that he needed to shave off his beard to continue working for Bojangles’. Charles reminded the manager that he could not cut his beard because of his religion, and requested an accommodation of wearing a beard net, similar to a hair net, which the restaurant manager refused. The restaurant manager told Charles to leave the restaurant, and to not return to work until he shaved off his beard. Charles refused to shave his beard and was consequently fired, the EEOC said.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as doing so does not pose an undue hardship on the employer.

Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against Taco Bell for Terminating Employee Who Refused to Cut His Hair

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A Taco Bell restaurant in Fayetteville, North Carolina was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) for terminating an employee who refused to cut his hair because of his Nazirite religious beliefs.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division, (EEOC v. Family Foods, Inc. d/b/a Taco Bell, 11 Civ. 00394), Christopher Abbey is a practicing Nazirite who, in keeping with his religious beliefs, has not cut his hair since he was 15 years old.  Nazirites base their beliefs on references to individuals in the Old Testament who took a special vow of abstinence.

Abbey had worked at the Taco Bell restaurant since 2004.  Sometime in April 2010, Family Foods, which owns the Fayetteville Taco Bell, informed Abbey, who was 25 at the time, that he had to cut his hair in order to comply with the restaurant’s grooming policy.  When Abbey explained that he could not cut his hair because of his religion, the company told Abbey that unless he complied, he could no longer continue to work at the restaurant.

Taco Bell’s alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to attempt to make reasonable accommodations to sincerely held religious beliefs of employees as long as doing so poses no undue hardship.  In its suit, the EEOC seeks back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Abbey, as well as injunctive relief.

Deaf 7-Eleven Manager Awarded $934,000 in Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

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A 7-Eleven unlawfully terminated a deaf manager in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Florida Law, according to a jury which awarded $934,000 in damages.

In his discrimination complaint, manager James Soliday alleged that 7-Eleven denied his requests for reasonable accommodations and terminated him because of his disability.  Soliday has 95% hearing loss and relies entirely on lip reading and visual cues when communicating with someone in person.  From the beginning of his 26-year long tenure at 7-Eleven, Soliday was able to work and rose within the company (without face-to-face contact) by using fax machines to transfer and review data and text pagers to communicate with managers, field consultants, market managers, and headquarters.  The case arose when Soliday’s supervisor allegedly refused to replace the broken fax machine and eliminated text pagers at the office.  This significantly interfered with Soliday’s ability to perform his job and shortly thereafter, Soliday was accused of failing to perform his job duties and his employment was terminated.  The jury awarded Soliday $934,000, including $178,000 for lost wages and benefits, and $756,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish.

Denny’s Settles Disability Discrimination Lawsuit for $1.3 Million

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A nationwide class action lawsuit alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was settled on June 20, 2011 for $1.3 million.  The case had been filed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on behalf of disabled employees at Denny’s 500 corporate-owned restaurants in 30 states.  The Consent Decree, filed by a federal court judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, provides for Denny’s to pay the workers $1.3 million for back pay and compensatory damages.

In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Denny’s refused to provide one of its restaurant managers in Baltimore, Maryland with the legally-required reasonable accommodations for her disability, a leg amputation which prohibited her from working in its restaurants, despite her desire to return to work.  Subsequently, Denny’s fired the employee because of her disability.  The EEOC further alleged in its Complaint that Denny’s violated the rights of a nationwide class of workers with disabilities by maintaining a maximum medical leave policy that automatically denied additional medical leave beyond a pre-determined limit – – even when additional leave was required by the ADA as a reasonable accommodation for those workers – – resulting in their unlawful terminations.

The Consent Decree provides for a number of remedies.  Denny’s must offer to reinstate all employees who were fired because of the leave policy to the positions that they held at the time of their discharges.  Denny’s must also amend its medical leave policy to make exceptions to any maximum leave duration provisions by providing additional unpaid medical leave beyond the maximum allowed by its policies when necessary to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities.  Furthermore, Denny’s is enjoined from any present or future violations of the ADA.

Starbucks Is Sued For Disability Discrimination for Firing Dwarf Barista

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A dwarf barista was discriminated against by Starbucks, according to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).  The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Texas on May 12, 2011, claims that the barista, who had the physical impairment of dwarfism, requested the use of a stool and or small step ladder as a “reasonable accommodation” to enable her to operate the cash register and to prepare beverages at a Starbucks in El Paso, Texas.  According to the EEOC, after requesting this “reasonable accommodation” to perform the essential functions of her position, Starbucks failed to engage in an interactive process and failed to provide a reasonable accommodation.  Instead, the barista was terminated on the basis that she would be a danger to customers and employees.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as this does not pose an undue hardship.  The EEOC’s press release on the case stated: “Employers cannot blithely ignore a request for a reasonable accommodation by a qualified individual with a disability.  Starbucks flatly refused to discuss Ms. Sallard’s reasonable request.  Instead, they assumed the worst and fired her. The ADA was enacted to prevent that kind of misguided, fear-driven reaction.”

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