DALLAS – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has received a favorable jury verdict of $166,500 in a disability harassment lawsuit brought against a Subway restaurant franchise, BobRich Enterprises, Inc., on behalf of a female manager who was discriminated against and forced to resign because of her hearing impairment.
The Dallas jury of five women and two men awarded former area supervisor Tammy Gitsham $66,500 for lost wages and emotional harm and an additional $100,000 in punitive damages in the EEOC’s suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division (Case No. 3-05-CV-1928M, before Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn). The EEOC charged in the case that Subway Owner Robert Suarez and one of his managers subjected Gitsham to a disability-based hostile work environment, including teasing and name-calling, because she is hearing impaired and wears hearing aids.
The jury verdict followed the presentation of evidence by the EEOC that Gitsham was forced to resign her position after both the owner and human resources/training manager repeatedly mocked her privately and in front of other employees, creating a hostile workplace, with taunts such as: “Read My Lips” and “Can you hear me now?” and “You got your ears on?”
“I am very happy with the judgment,” said Gitsham, commenting on the verdict. “It is important for people to realize that they don’t have to put up with this type of mean-spirited treatment from business owners. I feel that I can now move on with my life.”
According to the EEOC, BobRich Enterprises, Inc. has owned and operated as many as 20 Subway stores throughout the Dallas metroplex. Gitsham worked as an area supervisor for Subway, managing between five and 10 stores throughout the metroplex during her year and a half of employment at the franchise.
EEOC’s Dallas Regional Attorney Robert Canino said, “As our nation observes the 17th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, this case should remind employers of their legal obligation to promote discrimination-free workplaces for people with disabilities. Humiliating an excellent and loyal employee because of a disability is more than just bad behavior, it is bad business. This company should have been as focused on creating a healthy work environment as it was on making a healthy sandwich.”
The ADA, enacted on July 26, 1990, prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Suzanne M. Anderson said, “All individuals deserve the freedom to compete and advance in the workplace on a level playing field -- including individuals with disabilities. Employers should proactively prevent disability discrimination by putting policies and procedures in place to ensure that employees and managers clearly understand and abide by the letter and spirit of the law.”
Since Fiscal Year 1992, when the ADA’s employment provisions became effective, the EEOC has received more than 235,000 charge filings alleging disability discrimination, filed more than 700 ADA lawsuits, and obtained approximately $665 million in total monetary relief for charging parties.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, gender (including sexual harassment and pregnancy), religion, national origin, age, disability and retaliation. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.