FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Karen I. Ward, Senior Counsel
Laura J. Miller, Managing Attorney
(312) 341-0022, (800) 537-2632 or
TTY (800) 610-2779
Public Information Director
Equip for Equality Files Lawsuit Against National Airport Food Service Provider for Employment Discrimination Under the ADA
Water Truck Driver is Dismissed by Gate Gourmet for Psychiatric Condition
CHICAGO (Jan. 28, 2003) -- Today Equip for Equality, under its Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) project, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Gate Gourmet, Inc., for violating the rights of Damian O'Neal, a 32-year-old with mental illness, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). O'Neal was employed by Gate Gourmet as a water truck driver from February 1994 until March 2001 when his employment was terminated.
The complaint alleges that Delaware-based Gate Gourmet, which provides food service at O'Hare Airport and airports throughout the United States, discriminated against O'Neal by forcing him onto medical leave although he was able to do his job, refusing to reinstate him to his position despite his ability to work, refusing to discuss reasonable accommodations for his mental illness, discharging him for being on leave unlawfully caused by Gate Gourmet and, finally, applying an unlawful policy resulting in his termination.
"Our client's termination is a blatant violation of his rights," says O'Neal's attorney Karen I. Ward, Senior Counsel for Equip for Equality. "He was always able to perform the essential functions of his job and it is clear that Gate Gourmet discriminated against him because of his psychiatric illness with its accompanying symptoms and medications."
In 1995, O'Neal, who resides in Dolton, Ill., underwent surgery for a cyst on his brain after which he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, an impairment that substantially interferes with ability to sleep and which also requires medications to address other symptoms. However, his physician permitted him to return to work without any restrictions.
In 1999, O'Neal was diagnosed with a hernia - a condition totally unrelated to bipolar disorder - and was placed on a weight-lifting restriction by his doctor. This in no way affected his ability to drive a truck for Gate Gourmet, who nonetheless forced him onto medical leave for 15 months, claiming that his psychiatric illness now had restrictions that limited his ability to work, and then terminated his employment according to company policy.
On May 1, 2001, O'Neal filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which, after thorough investigation, determined that Gate Gourmet discriminated against him based on his disability and in violation of the ADA by terminating his employment. It also determined that Gate Gourmet's policy requiring that individuals be terminated after 15 months of not working was in violation of the ADA based on discrimination against a class of individuals with disabilities.
The new PABSS project at Equip for Equality is funded by the Social Security Administration pursuant to the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act. Staff provide advice, advocacy and legal representation for Social Security beneficiaries on their rights to secure, regain or retain employment. Training seminars on employment rights under the ADA and Ticket to Work are also offered for people with disabilities, their families, employers, and service providers and agencies.
Equip for Equality is a private, not-for-profit entity designated by the Governor to administer the federal Protection and Advocacy System for safeguarding the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois. It is the only comprehensive statewide advocacy organization providing self-advocacy assistance, legal services, disability rights education, public policy advocacy and abuse investigation.
For further information, contact Equip for Equality Senior Counsel Karen Ward or Managing Attorney Laura Miller at 312-341-0022, 800-537-2632, or TTY 800-610-2779.