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PRESS RELEASE
9-8-11

Oakland Restaurant Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination

Federal Agency Charges Merritt Restaurant and Bakery Fired Cook Because of Seizure

OAKLAND, Calif. – Merritt Restaurant and Bakery, a Lake Merritt neighborhood restaurant, violated federal law when it discriminated against an employee with a history of seizures, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.   

The EEOC’s suit charges that Jerry Gallon, a cook and kitchen manager, faced discrimination after he had a seizure while working the night shift in September 2009.  The agency’s investigation found that the restaurant refused to allow Gallon to leave work when he felt an oncoming seizure.  Although Gallon had received a clearance from doctors, Merritt delayed his reinstatement and later transferred him to the day shift, causing a decrease in work hours and pay.  Finally, despite his previously unblemished work history, Gallon was fired due to his disability and in retaliation for complaining about his treatment after the seizure, the EEOC said. 

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability.  The EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. McKinney Griff, Inc. dba Merritt Restaurant and Bakery, Case No. CV11-4468-EDL) in the Northern District of California after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.  The suit seeks monetary damages, including back pay, compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages, as well as an injunction prohibiting further discrimination by the employer and mandating corrective action.  The Legal Aid Society/Employment Law Center, a non-profit organization, intervened in the case to represent Gallon.

“I was surprised that Merritt Restaurant treated me so callously after I had my seizure,” Gallon said.  “I was perfectly capable of doing my job, but management transferred me to the day shift, reduced my hours and then fired me.  When I complained about how I was treated, the restaurant owner, Charles Griffis, told me I should get a good lawyer – so that’s what I did.”

EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, "Most people who have had seizures are able to work without any workplace accommodations. This lawsuit stresses that employment decisions should not be driven by myths and stereotypes about disabilities.”

EEOC San Francisco District Office Director Michael Baldonado noted that, according to the Center for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov/Epilepsy/index.htm), seizure disorders affect two million Americans.  

Baldonado stated, “It is not only illegal to target workers with disabilities for discriminatory treatment, but it’s also bad for business.  Employers lose trained and loyal employees when they turn away workers because of their disabilities.”

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