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KFC franchise resolves suit over manager who was fired after refusing to forgo bipolar meds

The EEOC has entered into an agreement with Hester Foods, Inc., operator of a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Dublin, Georgia, to resolve a lawsuit alleging the company violated the ADA when its owner discharged a manager upon learning she was taking prescribed medicine for bipolar disorder. The employer will pay $30,000 to the complaining employee and provide other relief; however, it denies the underlying allegations.

The EEOC filed a disability discrimination suit against the employer in June 2017 challenging the employee’s July 2015 termination. According to a release issued by the Commission on filing the case, the restaurant owner referred to the manager’s medications in obscene terms and made her destroy them by flushing them down a toilet at the restaurant. When the manager later told the owner that she planned to continue taking the medications per her doctor’s orders, the owner told her not to return to work and fired her, the EEOC alleged. The Commission also charged that the employer made unlawful medical inquiries of the manager. “Managers and owners cannot force employees to forego medical care or prescribed medications to keep their job,” EEOC District Director Bernice Williams-Kimbrough advised at that time.

Under a two-year consent decree approved by the court on January 30, Hester Foods will destroy any employment records regarding the incident giving rise to the litigation, along with any documents referencing the litigation. All employment records that indicated the employee was terminated will be revised to indicate she “voluntarily resigned.” The employer also will provide the employee with a positive letter of reference.

In other equitable relief, Hester Foods has agreed not to discriminate on the basis of disability or any other protected category under the ADA, and to adopt, distribute to employees, and post a formal antidiscrimination policy at all of the company’s Dublin, Georgia, facilities. It also will provide annual training to managers, supervisors, and employees on the ADA’s requirements, the statute’s prohibition against retaliation, and the rights and responsibilities of management and employees under the company’s policy. The employer will post a required notice at the worksite and also will periodically report to the EEOC regarding any employees whose employment status has been changed due to the employer’s knowledge of the individual’s disability, medical impairment, or use of prescription medication.

The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the Southern District of Georgia; the case is Civil Action No. 3:17-cv-00034.