Restaurant Faces Lawsuit After Firing Disabled Employee

| by Jonathan Constante
Stephen SeversonStephen Severson

A Wisconsin family is considering taking legal action against a local restaurant after they fired an employee with disabilities.

Stephen Severson had been working at the Culver’s restaurant in McFarland, Wisconsin for almost 17 years, WKOW reported. He served food and did cleanup work.

On Feb. 19, the long-time employee was reportedly terminated, without warning or explanation.

“I worked my whole shift and I got done,” Severson told WKOW. “I said, 'I'll see you Sunday.’ [My manager] goes, 'No, you're fired.' Well, not fired, they let me go.”

Stephanie Calloway, Severson’s mother, called the manager and asked why her son was being let go. She said the manager told her he didn’t have to provide a reason because the restaurant is an “at will” employer.

“I could understand being an at will employer, but at will employers need to understand when you hire the disabled and make accommodations and that worker has a job coach, they have an obligation to talk to that job coach if they feel anything is going wrong,” Calloway said. “That was never done and so it was without warning, without reason, and therefore my only recourse is to use the EEOC and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act to sue them.”

Severson said his cognitive delays never interfered with his job performance.

According to Calloway, Severson has a job coach with Work Plus, an organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities acquire and keep jobs. She said the job coach worked closely with Severson’s managers and never spoke of any job-related problems other than a few scheduling issues.

Severson’s sister, Stacy Geiger, took to Facebook to share her brother’s story. The post has since gone viral.

“[Stephen] goes everywhere in this community, everyone loves him and this is a really bad situation and I thought that the village had a right to know that a restaurant in our town has completely discriminated against someone that the community loves,” Geiger told WKOW.

Paul Kneubuehl, Culver’s franchise owner in McFarland, issued the following statement:

We take very seriously the need to provide our employees with a safe work environment free from intimidation. While we are disappointed that a few individuals have attempted to disparage our record, we can confirm that no discrimination based on disability, or any other factor, occurred in this or any other instance. However, because we respect the privacy of our current and former employees, it is our policy to treat personnel matters as confidential.

Kneubuehl added that incidents in the workplace led to safety concerns.

Culver’s corporate office also issued a statement, insisting that the company is not taking the matter lightly.

“There is another side to this story which our franchisee feels that in the interest of protecting the privacy of past and present team members is not appropriate to share,” the statement read. “Our franchisee is working diligently to clear up any misunderstandings as to the actions which were taken in the best interests of everyone involved, including current team members.”

Severson’s family said he had worked at Culver’s for half of his life. He will now have to find a new job that will require more training.

Sources: WKOW, KWLL / Photo Credit: WKOW

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