For 25 years, 43-year-old Kyle Dowie has been processing bottles and cans brought in for redemption at a Hy-Vee store in Des Moines, Iowa. It is work that many might consider “monotonous or dirty” but that has been — as his mother, Jean Ann Johnson says — a “lifeline” for Dowie, who has Tourette’s Syndrome and intellectual disabilities. It’s the kind of job that I hope my 14 1/2 son Charlie, who’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, might be able to have someday.
So I was all the more distressed to hear that, back in November, Dowie was fired for trying to cash in 20 cents worth of bottle-deposit credits that did not belong to him, as Hy-Vee’s operations manager Curt Sills, contends. The Des Moines Register explains what happened, according to Dowie’s mother:
…[Dowie] has at times picked up credit slips left in the recycling machines by customers, thinking they might come back for them. On Nov. 2, while redeeming $3.75 worth of bottles brought from home, she said he fished an additional 20 cents worth of credits dated in September out of his pocket and presented them for payment….
Sills also accused Dowie — with no evidence — of going to other Hy-Vee stores to cash in receipts, which Dowie denies doing. His mother said he had been written up before for redeeming unclaimed credit slips, though the most recent time was eight years ago. She said he’s honest but has gotten confused about slips he was holding. He has consistently gotten excellent performance reviews, she said.
This past week, a complaint was filed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission on Dowie’s behalf. According to the complaint, Dowie was discriminated against based on his disability. In his statement, Dowie said “I am mentally retarded, but Hy-Vee did not take that into account when ending my employment over twenty cents.”
Dowie made $13 an hour and received 4 weeks of vacation and his mother, Johnson, thinks that these benefits are the reason that Hy-Vee sought to fire again. The store has actually offered him a job at another Hy-Vee, but at the minimum wage and without benefits — even though, the Des Moines Register says, a Hy-Vee corporate spokeswoman states that “If a person is terminated from Hy-Vee for cause, we would not recommend them to another Hy-Vee store.”
Regarding Dowie’s case, Hy-Vee is not commenting on the grounds of “confidentiality.”
I find Dowie’s firing appalling. I only know about Dowie from the Des Moines Register article, but I can see how he may have become “confused” about which credit slips he had and mistakenly redeemed one. The 20 cents he was fired for is a negligible amount. Were Dowie or Johnson even given the chance to explain how he came by the September receipt with the extra 20 cents?
I can imagine my son having such confusion and making an error and certainly without any intent of theft or malice. I am hopeful that Dowie prevails with his civil rights suit and that Hy-Vee learns that the rights of workers with disabilities must be acknowledged and respected — and, that Dowie is able to have his former job, at the same salary and with the same benefits, again.
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