Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Suit: Papa John's illegally fired worker with Down syndrome

FARMINGTON — Back in September 2011, Scott Bonn started working for the pizza-delivery company Papa John’s folding boxes.
Bonn, who has Down syndrome, got help from the state to fulfill his duties with a job coach.
After a visit to the Farmington location by a Papa John’s operating partner in February 2012, the local franchise owners became aware of the situation and made a call to corporate human resources department.
As a result, Bonn was fired, an EEOC attorney says.
Now the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has stepped in with a lawsuit against Papa John’s both at the franchise and corporate level.
Representatives for Papa John’s did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
According to the EEOC, Papa John's discriminated against Bonn by failing to reasonably accommodate his Down syndrome and by terminating him because of his disability. Before he was fired, Bonn worked successfully with the assistance of an independently employed and insured job coach.
“He (Bonn) needed a job coach to do the job,” said Mary Jo O'Neill, EEOC regional attorney. “He was doing his job; the job coach was not doing his job for him.”
EEOC officials said that such alleged conduct violates Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities by failing to reasonably accommodate their disabilities. The use of a job coach is considered a reasonable accommodation where the situation calls for one.
According to the official complaint, the EEOC is suing Papa John’s for:
a. Denying and interfering with Bonn’s employment opportunities based on his need for reasonable accommodation;
b. terminating Bonn’s employment because of his disability and/or because of his need for reasonable accommodation; and
c. terminating Bonn in retaliation for his requests for reasonable accommodation.
The lawsuit extended beyond the local franchise because of the involvement of the corporate human resources department, said trial attorney Mark Sorokin. He said in this instance, the two entities are integrated.
Through the lawsuit against PJ Utah LLC, PJ Cheese Inc. and PJ United Inc., Sorokin said the EEOC is working to get Bonn his job back and to provide appropriate relief for the time he missed.
More importantly, the EEOC hopes to prevent Papa John’s from doing something like this again.
Before filing the lawsuit, the complaint said the EEOC worked to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement.
O’Neill said many people with intellectual disabilities, including Bonn, want to work to feel fulfilled and vital to the community.
However, people with intellectual disabilities are one of the most underemployed segments of the workforce, O'Neill said. Many disabled persons are qualified, ready and willing to work. All they need is an equal opportunity. Job coaches are one form of reasonable accommodation that allows employees with intellectual disabilities to be able to work.
“The EEOC feels that the protection of workers, in that they want to work, is a very important priority,” O’Neill said.
Contact Jesus Lopez Jr. at 801-625-4239 or jlopez@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @jesuslopezSE and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/JesusLopezSE.

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