Taco Bell faces discrimination suit

August 26, 1994|By Matt Ebnet and Kathryn R. Markham | Matt Ebnet and Kathryn R. Markham,Sun Staff Writers

A 26-year-old cancer patient has filed a $500,000 lawsuit, accusing his former employer -- Taco Bell -- of discriminating against him because of his illness.

Thomas Callahan of Greenbelt charged in a suit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that he was fired from his job at the restaurant in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village the day after telling his manager that he would begin receiving radiation treatment for testicular cancer.

Mr. Callahan has been battling the disease since April 1991, according to court documents.

Levon Boyd, manager of the store, and the Irvine, Calif. based Taco Bell Corp., were named in the suit. Mr. Boyd could not be reached for comment.

Richard Klein, the company's director of equal employment opportunity, refused to comment yesterday.

Andrew Freeman, Mr. Callahan's attorney, contends that the firing violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which in July 1992 made it illegal for companies to discriminate against people with disabilities.

"This case is so blatant its off-the-scale outrageous," said Mr. Freeman.

According to court documents, Mr. Callahan told his employer that he had cancer that was in remission when he was hired in October 1993 as an assistant restaurant general manager at the Taco Bell managed by Mr. Boyd.

On March 14 Mr. Callahan had a lymph node removed from his neck, a procedure that forced him to miss two weeks of work.

When he returned, Mr. Callahan was assigned to work three weeks on the night shift, a violation of company policy, the suit charges.

According to the suit, Mr. Callahan told Mr. Boyd on May 5 that his cancer had returned and that he would need radiation treatments. On May 6, the suit says, Mr. Callahanwas fired.

In a prepared statement Mr. Callahan wrote: "I can't put into words how devastated and embarrassed I was."

A performance evaluation form, known as a Taco Bell "Employee Consultation Memorandum," which was given to Callahan, offers the only reasons Mr. Callahan says the company gave for his firing.

The document, signed by Mr. Boyd, lists a half-dozen complaints about Mr. Callahan -- things such as leaving taco shells out overnight and failing cleanliness examinations -- as justification for the firing.

"With multiple performance issues in place the action to commence as of 5/06/94 is termination from the Taco system," Mr. Boyd wrote.

No trial date has been set in the case, Mr. Freeman said.

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