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Your UCP: National October 13, 2003

ADA Information

EEOC Sues Wendy's Restaurant for Disability Bias

Retarded Employee Subjected to Physical and Verbal Harassment, Forced to Resign

Newark, NJ, August 21, 2002 - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a federal lawsuit against Spylen of Denville, Inc. (doing business as Wendy's), charging that the company violated Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) when its employees created, and its managers failed to correct, a hostile work environment directed toward Thomas Sillito because of his disability (mental retardation), and forced him to resign as a consequence.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for New Jersey, charges that throughout his employment, Sillito was subjected to physical and verbal abuse. Examples of the abuse include thrusting a butcher's knife at his stomach, punching him, pushing him, throwing water in his face, and putting ice down his shirt. Despite frequent complaints to them, Spylen's managers failed to investigate and remedy the hostile work environment. Due to the continuing humiliating and physically threatening conduct, Sillito was forced to resign. The suit alleges that his resignation was, in effect, a discharge caused by his disability and a separate violation of the ADA.

The ADA makes it illegal to deny a person an employment opportunity because of his or her disability. This includes the opportunity to work in an environment free of abusive behavior directed at an employee because of his or her disability. Moreover, an employer can be held liable for the effects of such harassment including the economic consequences of forcing a person to resign.

The Commission initiated the litigation after an investigation by its Newark office confirmed that the restaurant violated the ADA and the Agency exhausted its conciliation efforts to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement.

EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Jaqueline McNair said, "The frequency and the threatening and humiliating character of the harassment Mr. Sillito was made to endure - and the willful reluctance of the restaurant's managers to address the problem - are clear examples of the type of discrimination Congress intended to eliminate with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act over a decade ago."

The EEOC seeks to eliminate the discriminatory practices alleged in the case and have Spylen of Denville compensate Sillito for his monetary losses and the emotional pain and humiliation he experienced.

The Commission noted that it has observed an increasing trend of ADA charge filings alleging disability- based harassment. From Fiscal Years 1993 to 2001, such charges have nearly doubled from approximately 1,400 to 2,400 filed per year with EEOC offices nationwide.

In addition to enforcing Title I of the ADA, the EEOC enforces Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which addresses denial of employment opportunity because of race, color, sex, religion and national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects workers age 40 and older from discrimination based on age; the Equal Pay Act; prohibitions against discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal government; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Further information about the Commission is available on the Agency's Web site.


Jacqueline McNair, Regional Attorney, (215) 440-2666
Edward McCaffrey, Program Analyst, (215) 440-2671
TTY: (215) 440-2610

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