Christopher Peņa worked for Burger King for seven years before he filed a lawsuit against the company this month for discrimination of his HIV-positive status. In the final months of employment with the company he oversaw nine different restaurants, according to the Huffington Post. Although Peņa spent all of these years with the same company, steadily working his way to a higher managerial position, he was suddenly let go in September 2011. Burger King claimed that Peņa showed poor work performance during the last months and was unable to satisfactorily complete his job.
Peņa has another theory as to why the company suddenly cut ties with its employee. He disclosed to his manager that he was HIV-positive in June 2011, only three months prior to his dismissal. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the group representing Peņa in court, argues that his dismissal is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Business Insider. This act covers people who are HIV-positive and ensures that they are treated with fairness by their employers during their illness.
Peņa faced a difficult decision when telling his supervisor about his condition. His upcoming treatments and sick days were inevitable and his employer needed to know why he would miss work on certain occasions. Conversely, he feared the repercussions and discrimination that would follow from superiors and the company as a whole after disclosing his health status. As the civil action complaint states, the “Plaintiff performed satisfactorily for the entire period of his employment.” Yet, his sudden dismissal followed closely on the heels of his disclosure.
And Peņa is by no means the only recent plaintiff reacting to HIV-positive discrimination in the restaurant business. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund also represents Reymundo Martinez, who worked at Ivy Restaurant in Los Angeles. Only a few months ago, Martinez filed a complaint against the restaurant which fired him shortly after he began to request schedule changes for required medical treatments for his HIV-positive condition.
Like Peņa, the lawsuit claims that Martinez completed the duties of his job satisfactorily, with no complaints, until he was fired, according to California Public Radio. Both men are represented by MALDEF, a civil rights organization that seeks to “bring Latinos into the mainstream of American political and socio-economic life,” according to its website. Both men face ethnic and health-related discrimination. Victor Viramontes, Peņa’s main lawyer in the lawsuit, states that discrimination against HIV-positive Latinos is becoming a central concern, especially with the state of health insurance in the United States.
As the Huffington Post highlights in its piece, the most troubling aspect of Peņa’s case is that he had a long record of excellent performance that was suddenly cut off due to performance problems. Peņa claims that other managers in a similar position to him, looking to lose a restaurant due to economic problems, did not face the same treatment as he did.
Burger King has not responded to the new lawsuit as yet and we can only guess that the company will remain committed to the decision to let Peņa go due to performance issues.
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