McDonald’s fires workers because he has autism, lawsuit says

A New Jersey McDonald's fired a man who worked there for years because he has autism, according to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A New Jersey McDonald’s fired a man who worked there for years because he has autism, according to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

AP

A man who received awards and accolades for his work as a McDonald’s grill cook was fired after 37 years of working for the fast food giant, federal officials said.

Two months after a different franchisee became the new owner of the McDonald’s in Deptford, New Jersey, it fired him because he has autism, according to a lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But firing the grill cook violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal agency said in a Dec. 16 news release.

Now the McDonald’s franchisee, JDKD Enterprises, LP, has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle the disability discrimination lawsuit, the EEOC announced.

“The ADA protects people with autism spectrum disorder, and the EEOC is absolutely committed to aggressively enforcing the ADA requirement that employers reasonably accommodate their workers with disabilities absent undue hardship,” Debra Lawrence, a regional attorney for the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, said in a statement.

McClatchy News contacted an attorney representing the franchisee and McDonald’s for comment on Dec. 19 and didn’t immediately receive a response.

The man’s yearslong career at McDonald’s

In 1981, the man started working at McDonald’s as a grill cook before joining the restaurant in Deptford in 2008, according to a complaint filed in federal court.

His autism spectrum disorder is “obvious from how he communicates” and “evident” while he worked, the complaint states. It describes how it can cause him to have a difficult time controlling the volume of his voice and to “engage in what is known as self-stimulatory behavior, including rocking back and forth.”

If he became “agitated,” the complaint says it’s possible for him to raise his voice.

Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because the symptoms vary widely from person to person, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Before JDKD Enterprises took over ownership of the Deptford McDonald’s in March 2018, the man was recognized for his “excellent” work as a grill cook for more than three decades, the EEOC’s complaint states.

At work on May 14, 2018, the grill cook’s “autism spectrum disorder caused him to become agitated and to raise his voice,” according to the complaint.

The McDonald’s franchise responded by firing him the same day, the EEOC said. Meanwhile, the worker was still qualified to perform his job, officials said.

The franchisee could have tried to provide an accommodation to him but failed to, according to the complaint.

His firing caused him “emotional distress, pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, embarrassment, frustration, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit settlement

Alongside paying $100,000 to settle the lawsuit, JDKD Enterprises agreed to take further action to prevent future disability discrimination, according to the release.

The McDonald’s franchisee will train management to respond to requests for accommodations and will periodically report to the EEOC, the release said.

“Ensuring that all employees, especially management, are properly trained regarding their obligations under the ADA – including their duty to engage in good faith, diligent communications with their disabled employees about accommodation needs – is a smart business practice and the right thing to do, ” EEOC Philadelphia District Director Jamie Williamson said in a statement.

Julia Marnin is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter covering the southeast and northeast while based in New York. She’s an alumna of The College of New Jersey and joined McClatchy in 2021. Previously, she’s written for Newsweek, Modern Luxury, Gannett and more.

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