Alia Corporation, a Merced-based franchisee who owns the Oakhurst McDonalds, has agreed to pay $100,000 to former employee Derrick Morgan to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit.
The suit was filed against the company on behalf of Morgan in 2011 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Alia unlawfully demoted Morgan because of his intellectual disability and forced him to quit according to EEOC.
The suit against Alia, owned by brothers John and Jim Abate, was filed in U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.
The suit sought back pay and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Morgan along with injunctive relief intended to prevent further instances of discrimination.
The EEOC's lawsuit argued that Alia Corporation engaged in disability discrimination that violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Morgan, 31, a seven year resident of Oakhurst, had worked under a prior owner of the Oakhurst McDonald's without problems since 2006, said the EEOC. According to the suit, Morgan, who is married with a young daughter, was promoted from crew member to floor supervisor in 2008 and was generally known to be a good employee and was able to perform all the essential functions of that position in a satisfactory manner.
In January 2009, Alia Corporation -- Which operates more than 20 McDonald's franchise locations throughout Central California -- Assumed control of the restaurant in Oakhurst. In March 2009 new management demoted Morgan to a janitorial position, cut his hours and reduced his hourly wages.
Those actions, according to the suit, rendered Morgan's working conditions so intolerable that he was discharged in June 2009.
The suit further stated that the unlawful employment practices towards Morgan were "done with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of Derrick Morgan."
Morgan now works at the Vons gas station in Oakhurst.
As part of the settlement announced last week, Alia agreed to hire an EEOC monitor to create anti-discrimination policies and procedures; a complaint process and impartial investigations; a centralized tracking system for discrimination complaints; a system to hold employees accountable for discrimination; and, annual live disability discrimination training for all management and human resources employees.
The EEOC will monitor compliance with the agreement.
An EEOC prepared statement said employers cannot allow biases and stereotypes to factor into employment decisions.
Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office said "Employers must let go of their stereotypes and fears about employing people with disabilities. This is a case where the company illegally stripped a well-qualified worker of his ability to earn a living due to misperceptions about his disability."
"People with disabilities have the same right to work as the rest of us," added Melissa Barrios, director of EEOC's Fresno office. "Disability discrimination charges are on the rise in California, comprising 30% of all charges filed. Workers who are unjustly penalized due to their disabilities have protections under federal law and the EEOC is here to help."
"The EEOC commends Alia Corporation for the settlement, as it marks a new path for Alia -- One which includes equal employment opportunity for all of their employees, regardless of disabilities," Park said.
In a separate statement, Alia spokesman John Abbate said "Alia does not believe Mr. Morgan was subjected to disability discrimination during his employment. On the contrary, Alia believes that Mr. Morgan was treated fairly in all respects, notwithstanding his alleged disability. Nevertheless, as in the past, the company is committed to providing its employees with a workplace that is free of discrimination of any kind. To that end, Alia has agreed to work with the EEOC in augmenting its policies and procedures to enhance its antidiscrimination training efforts."
The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency's web site at eeoc.gov.