|Restaurant Chain Sued for Discriminating Against Worker with Mental Retardation
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
|February 9, 2001
CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE--Jody Terrio, 35, loved his dishwashing job at the Olive Garden. And he did his job well, consistently scoring four out of five possible points in his job performance reviews, beginning from the time he joined the Concord branch when it opened in 1994.
But in 1997 something changed. "I don't work today," Terrio would say in the mornings. He started "throwing temper tantrums" at work.
Finally, he was fired. It was the first and only time the man, who has mental retardation, was let go from a job.
The firing didn't seem right to Terrio's mother, Sandy Segil. "The only thing I was told was that he was becoming unmanageable, that he was having temper-tantrums, that they couldn't deal with it," Segil said.
So she asked Sheila Zakre, an attorney at the Disabilities Rights Center, to look into things.
What Zakre found has led the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file its first New Hampshire workplace disability discrimination and harassment lawsuit on Wednesday.
By interviewing Olive Garden employees, Zakre found that Terrio had endured a daily barrage of physical and verbal abuse while he worked there. Coworkers called him offensive names, put him in head-locks and other painful wrestling moves -- even pulled his sweatpants down in front of a crowd.
Sometimes they would hide Terrio's bicycle, or push him to work faster, apparently just to watch him fly into a rage.
"The seemed to think it was fun to get him going," Segil told the Concord Monitor.
The suit claims that management did little to intervene, but instead fired him when his work performance dropped. The lawsuit seeks back wages and punitive damages. It also seeks a change in Olive Garden's employment policy to eliminate future disability-based harassment.
The case could become more significant because it is one of a handful filed on behalf of employees with mental retardation. Only 79 of the 23,000 disability discrimination charges filed in 1998 were related to such workers.
"One of the goals of this lawsuit would be to establish precedent on this," said EEOC trial attorney Markus Penzel.