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Feds charge Indiana fast food franchisee refused to accommodate applicant with disability

Employee at a Fast food Restaurant Kitchen.

A northern Indiana fast food restaurant violated federal law by rescinding its job offer and failing to accommodate an applicant with a disability it initially hired, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced on January 5.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, HZ Ops Holdings, Inc., which owns and operates Popeye’s in Griffith, Ind., refused to complete onboarding of an employee it initially hired. The restaurant was told in the interview that the applicant would need a job coach present during training. It then hired the applicant and gave her paperwork and the employee handbook. Afterwards, however, the restaurant told the applicant’s job coach it could not hire the applicant because it was concerned she would hurt herself due to her cognitive disability.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on disability. The EEOC asserts that the company’s actions were intentional and demon­strated a reckless indifference to the applicant’s federally protected rights.

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency’s conciliation process. The agency is seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief from HZ OPS Holdings, Inc., including a permanent injunction to prevent the company from engaging in future disability discrimination in hiring.

“The ADA shields an applicant from disability-based assumptions about job ability ,” said Kenneth L. Bird, Indianapolis District Office Regional Attorney. “An employer cannot reflexively consider an individual’s disability to bar or deny reasonable accommodation to a qualified applicant, ” explained Bird.

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