female lawyer helping a discriminated employee

New Jersey Franchise Owner Settles Disability Discrimination Lawsuit With EEOC

By Douglas Lipsky

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that JDBK Enterprises has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit. The company is a New Jersey-based limited partnership that owns and operates numerous McDonald’s franchises in the state. 

The Backdrop

The EEOC enforces federal equal employment opportunity laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Enacted in 1990, the ADA prohibits disability discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

According to the agency’s lawsuit, JDBK Enterprises illegally fired a McDonald’s employee because of his autism spectrum disorder. The employee worked as a grill cook at several McDonald’s restaurants for 37 years and received excellent performance reviews and numerous awards and accolades over his decade-long employment at the Deptford, NJ franchise. 

Two months after JDBK Enterprises acquired the franchise, they abruptly terminated the employee. The EEOC alleged that the termination was in response to the employee’s request for reasonable accommodation. The employment watchdog filed the lawsuit in New Jersey federal court after the defendant failed to resolve the complaint through the agency’s conciliation process.

Under the terms of a two-year consent decree, JDBK Enterprises must compensate the former employee $100,000. In addition, the company must:

  • Report periodically to the EEOC detailing its efforts to prevent further disability discrimination  
  • Provide training to all management personnel on responding to reasonable accommodation requests 

The EEOC said in a statement that the ADA protects people with autism spectrum disorder, and the agency is committed to enforcing the law’s requirement that employers reasonably accommodate disabled workers absent undue hardship.  

Understanding Disability Discrimination

The ADA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from making employment decisions (e.g. hiring, training, promoting, firing) based on disability if the individual can perform their duties, with or without accommodation. 

The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that limits a person’s ability to perform daily life activities, such as:

  • Walking, standing, or sitting
  • Seeing, hearing, or speaking
  • Lifting
  • Performing manual tasks

The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled individuals that enable them to perform essential job functions, such as restructuring job duties, offering a flexible work schedule, or granting leaves to obtain medical treatment.

Notably, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) also prohibits disability discrimination in the workplace. The NJLAD provides disabled workers stronger legal protections than the ADA because the state law defines disability more broadly and applies to all employers, regardless of the number of employees.

Why This Matters

This case highlights the legal protections against disability discrimination afforded to all workers in New Jersey and around the country. The EEOC’s press release did not specify the accommodation the McDonald’s employee requested. Ultimately, the company likely settled to avoid a protracted legal battle that may not have gone in its favor. 

Despite federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination, employers hold all the cards when making employment decisions. The best way to level the playing field if you have experienced disability discrimination in your workplace is to work with an experienced employment lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.