The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

PRESS RELEASE
8-26-09

MISSISSIPPI SONIC DRIVE-IN FRANCHISEE TO PAY $22,000 TO SETTLE EEOC DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION SUIT

Lucedale Sonic Fired Employee Because She’d Had Seizure at Home, Federal Agency Charged

LUCEDALE, Miss. – The franchisee of the Sonic Drive-In Restaurant in Lucedale, Miss., will pay $22,000 in compensatory damages and furnish remedial relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that Ted Riley Corporation unlawfully fired an employee after learning she had experienced an epileptic seizure at home.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the Lucedale Sonic terminated Alecia Lawrence after she presented a return-to-work slip which revealed her medical condition. She had recently been hired by Ted Riley Corporation and had several years of experience working in fast food restaurants. A Sonic manager told Lawrence that it was unsafe for her to work in the restaurant around knives, ovens and other equipment due to her medical condition. No efforts were undertaken by Ted Riley Corporation to determine whether Lawrence’s medical condition would restrict or impede her ability to work, and no effort at providing a reasonable accommodation were made.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from making employment decisions that are based on misconceptions, assumptions or beliefs about an individual’s medical condition. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Southern Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Ted Riley Corporation, d/b/a Sonic Drive-In 1:08-CV-0335-LG-RHW) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court.

In addition to monetary relief, the two-year consent decree settling the suit requires Ted Riley Corporation to: adopt, implement, post and disseminate anti-discrimination policies and procedures; provide anti-discrimination training to managers; promptly and thoroughly investigate and address complaints of disability discrimination; and take steps to ensure that there will be no retaliation against employees who complain about conduct believed to be discriminatory.

"Ms. Lawrence was performing her job successfully and should not have been fired,” said C. Emanuel Smith, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office. “Ted Riley has now taken the lead to ensure there is no future workplace discrimination based on disability."

EEOC Birmingham District Director Delner Franklin-Thomas added, "The ADA seeks to discourage employers from making employment decisions based on myths and stereotypes. Employers should engage in an interactive process to determine whether the employee can perform essential job functions and not act upon mere belief or suspicion."

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.


This page was last modified on August 26, 2009.

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