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Disabled Workers Win Ruling Against McDonald’s

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 29, 2009 - 09:12:00 AM

The disability community won a victory Tuesday when the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ruled that the McDonald’s in Berkeley, on University and Shattuck avenues, discriminated against three of its disabled employees when it fired them from work last year. 

The Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center of San Francisco filed charges last year with the commission, alleging that the McDonald’s in downtown Berkeley unlawfully discriminated against Berkeley resident Lisa Craib and her two co-workers, Susan Hanks and Ruth Woo, because of their developmental disabilities.  

The center’s investigations revealed at that time that the employees were fired without notice or explanation when the franchise was sold in March.  

Reached Tuesday, Nick Vergis, the new owner of the Berkeley McDonald’s who was named in Craib’s complaint, said he didn’t know anything about the decision. 

“I haven’t seen it, I am not aware of the letter,” Vergis said. “If they have decided that, I am very sad for all of us.” 

Craib’s sister, Anne Craib, said she was happy to hear the news. 

“The bureaucratic process isn’t over yet, but this is a big step,” she said. “It’s slow, but it appears to work.” 

Anne Craib said that EEOC would be stepping in to negotiate a settlement between Lisa and Vergis, failing which her sister could sue. 

“What was important to Lisa was that this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” she said. “What happened here was wrong and shouldn’t happen again.” 

A letter from the E.E.O.C to Lisa Craib said that they had found “there is cause to believe that McDonald’s terminated Lisa and a class of individuals in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” 

The E.E.O.C. issued the same decision for all three women who filed complaints. 

Craib, 43, who has Asperger’s Syndrome—similar to autism—has been unemployed since she got fired from McDonald’s 15 months ago. Prior to her termination, she had worked at McDonald’s for 21 years, bussing tables and making salads. She recently completed a 9-month job training program at Children’s Hospital in Oakland. 

“Unfortunately for her when she finished the program there was a hiring freeze at Children’s Hospital,” Anne Craib said. “She would very much like a job but it’s a hard time for anyone to find a job right now, and certainly being disabled doesn’t make it easier for her. She hasn’t given up—she’s quite determined to get back to work.” 

Craib, her sister Anne and her mother Karola Craib said that McDonald’s put up a “Help Wanted—Equal Opportunity Employer” sign on its window immediately after terminating her. Her two disabled co-workers were fired the same week as she was. 

Vergis told the Planet in July that he wasn’t aware of Craib and said he had no role in firing her. He said it was possible that when the restaurant changed hands, Lisa might have been fired under the old management. 

A public relations firm for McDonald’s issued a statement on behalf of Vergis at that time saying that he followed “a strict policy prohibiting any form of discrimination in hiring, termination, or any other aspect of employment,” and complied with the American Disabilities Act. 

Mike Maddy, who owned the McDonald’s franchise before Vergis, said in an earlier interview that he did not have any employees after he stopped doing business on March 17, 2008, the day before Lisa was fired. 

The news of Lisa’s termination led to vehement protests for an entire day at the downtown McDonald’s by the disability community and disabled advocates who demanded fair treatment of all employees and justice for the terminated workers.