The Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center of San Francisco filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Tuesday (today), alleging that the McDonald’s in downtown Berkeley unlawfully discriminated against one of its employees and her two co-workers because of their developmental disabilities.
At a press conference Friday morning in San Francisco, Claudia Center, a senior staff attorney with the Legal Aid Center, said the center’s investigations revealed that at least three employees with severe disabilities were fired without notice or explanation when the franchise was sold in March.
A former employee, Lisa Craib, 43, a Berkeley resident and a Berkeley High School graduate, claims that she was unfairly dismissed from the restaurant on the corner of University and Shattuck avenues, where she has worked for 21 years
Craib, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome—a form of autism—worked the morning crew from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. cleaning tables, preparing salads and bussing.
She said that shortly after the franchise was sold to a new owner in March, she and two other workers with disabilities were abruptly fired.
“At the end of my shift on March 18, my supervisor told me that I ‘was no longer part of the team,’” Craib said. “I was extremely upset. I felt as though my home was being taken away from me. It hit me really hard.”
According to Craib, her mother, Karola Craib, and sister, Anne Craib, a “Help Wanted—Equal Opportunity Employer” sign appeared on the window of the restaurant right after she was fired.
“I believe that the new owner selected workers with disabilities for termination,” Lisa Craib stated in one of her claims. She also said that two co-workers with disabilities, and who are East Bay Regional Center clients, were fired the same week as she was.
Nick Vergis, the new owner of the McDonald’s franchise and named in the complaint, told the Planet in a telephone interview Tuesday that he didn’t know anything about the charges.
“I don’t even know who she (Lisa) is,” he said. “I don’t know anything about her at all. I bought the store in March, and all I can say is when stores exchange hands one company closes its business and the other company opens the business. It’s not a sworn affidavit, but it’s possible that no one was fired unless the prior company fired her. I don’t know what her employment history was ... If there was any kind of a problem, I wouldn’t know.”
In an e-mail to the Planet, Jesse Waters of Dudell & Associates, the public relations firm representing McDonald’s Pacific Sierra region, forwarded a statement by Vergis a couple of hours after the interview.
“Other than what has been reported in the media, I have not received any notice of a legal claim that has been filed against me,” the statement said. “I have a strict policy prohibiting any form of discrimination in hiring, termination, or any other aspect of employment. I comply with all applicable laws—including the American Disabilities Act—and continually strive to maintain an environment in which everyone feels valued and accepted. Beyond that, it would be inappropriate to further comment or speculate.”
Craib’s lawyer, Center, said that she was aware of only one complaint against her client regarding her work performance at the restaurant: a customer claimed that Craib had invaded his personal space.
Mike Maddy, who sold the franchise to Vergis, said he had no information about Craib’s dismissal.
“I stopped doing business on March 17, and I had no more employees at midnight of March 17,” he said. Craib was fired the next day.
Center said that when Craib was fired, McDonald’s failed to inform any of her support services, including the East Bay Regional Center, which referred her to the Arc of Alameda County for job coaching while she was working at McDonald’s.
“I had a job coach provided by the Arc, who interacted with the managers at McDonald’s,” Craib said. “When they fired me, they didn’t tell the coach.”
In her statement to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, Craib said she did not receive her last paycheck until May 18, two months after she was fired.
“In fact, I received my last paycheck after I made a formal request for my personnel file, which I still haven’t received,” Craib said.
“I enjoyed my job,” Craib told reporters at the press conference. “Having a job means that I have my own money. I can be responsible. I can make my own choices. Everyone in my family works. I grew up knowing that if you want something, go ahead and work for it. I want to take responsibility in the community. I want to be someone respected. I don’t want to be looked upon as an outcast.”
She is currently taking classes at Creative Growth—an art studio workshop—and is on a nine-month unpaid internship with the Children’s Hospital in Oakland, which she hopes will eventually lead to a paid position.
“The reason I filed the charges is not because I want to go back to working at McDonald’s,” Craib said. “I want to make people aware of what’s going on. I want Nick Vergis to realize that there is protection for the disabled. I want him to say ‘Yikes, what did I get myself into?”
Center pointed out that although July 26 will mark the 18th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a lot more work remains to be done to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
“The ADA was passed to promote the employment and integration of workers such as Lisa Craib and her co-workers,” Center said. “These actions cast serious doubt upon McDonald’s much publicized commitment to such ideals.”