JDKD Enterprises LP, a Sewell-based limited partnership that franchises several McDonald’s restaurants in New Jersey, has agreed to pay $100,000 to resolve a lawsuit alleging that the operator fired a grill cook with autism spectrum disorder after 37 years on the job, according to federal officials.
In addition to providing the former employee monetary relief, the two-year consent decree announced Dec. 16 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires the franchisee to take steps to prevent disability discrimination, such as training for all management in responding to reasonable accommodation requests.
Filed in September 2021, the lawsuit claimed the employee was “abruptly terminated” because of his autism two months after JDKD assumed ownership of the Deptford location in 2018.
According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, while he was at work on May 14, 2018, the grill cook’s “autism spectrum disorder caused him to become agitated and to raise his voice” and was fired the same day by the franchisee.
The EEOC noted that the employee had worked at McDonald’s for decades, including about 10 years at the Deptford location, and received numerous awards for his job performance.
According to the EEOC, the company’s conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and prohibits employers from taking adverse actions based on an individual’s disability or need for accommodations.
Between February 2021 and July 2021, both sides went through a voluntary conciliation process but were unable to reach a pre-litigation settlement, prompting the EEOC to file suit seeking back pay along with compensatory and punitive damages for the worker.
“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,” said Debra Lawrence, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Philadelphia district office, in a statement following the settlement.
EEOC Philadelphia District Director Jamie Williamson added, “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. Leadership means stewardship of an organization’s most valuable asset – its people.”
A representative from JDKD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.