Burger King could be in serious trouble soon if allegations against one of its Virgina restaurants turn out to be true. Christopher Peña, 35, a former manager and seven-year Burger King veteran, says he was unfairly let go from the company last September, three months after he disclosed his HIV status to a supervisor.
Burger King’s official reasoning for firing Christopher on September 19, 2011 was “poor work performance” despite the manager’s claim of not having ever been disciplined before disclosing his HIV status. After though, Christoper said he received disciplinary action, along with several critical emails after one of the nine restaurants he oversaw failed an audit and others had service problems. Christopher and his lawyers claim his dismissal violates the Americans with Disabilities Act which prohibits discrimination based on disability and covers people who are HIV positive.
Burger King did not respond to The Huffington Post’s requests for comment and the company has not yet filed a response in court to the manager’s complaint. Victor Viramontes, a lawyer for Christopher and senior counsel at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said discrimination against Latinos who are HIV-positive is a serious problem in the workplace.
“When they’re fired from their job, they frequently lose their healthcare with it,” he said.
Christopher wrestled with the decision of whether to tell his superiors about his status once he found out he was HIV-positive in April 2011. He said he eventually told one manager in June 2011 because he felt they should know in case side effects from his medicine caused him to need time off work. He said he was hoping for support, especially since he knew other managers in corporate restaurants, not franchises, who had the same issues with the stores they oversaw.
“It was a very personal decision that I thought about before I did it,” Christopher said. “I was looking more for guidance and support, and that’s why I did it.”
“After I disclosed, I was not the only person in my position who had these types of incidents occur in their restaurants, and I was the only one who was being treated this way.”
Christopher remains unemployed despite going on several interviews since his firing. His lawyer said his office took up Chris’s case particularly because of his long history of good-standing with Burger King.
“The fact pattern is very troubling, particularly against a large corporate entity like Burger King,” he said. “We wanted to step in and send a message to employers that this is inappropriate.”
Do you think Christopher will win this suit?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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