Policy falls as deaf teen settles case
Houston Chronicle, TX
By L.M. SIXEL Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
Applicants who are deaf will no longer be rejected for jobs at the nation's Jack in the Box restaurants after the settlement of a lawsuit filed by a deaf Baytown teenager.
The chain agreed to drop a nationwide policy, which had the effect of preventing deaf employees from working in the restaurants, and to pay Alfonso Cruz $25,000.
The chain of 2,006 restaurants in 17 states also agreed to assess each applicant's ability to hear and differentiate musical tones, according to the agreement signed last week by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Jack in the Box in May on behalf of Cruz, who applied for a $5.15-an-hour cook's position in Baytown. The then-17-year-old was rejected because he was deaf and unable to speak, which the agency said violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The manager explained to Cruz and his mother, Estefana Cruz, who used sign language to translate, that she "did not want to set him up to fail," said Aimee McFerren, an agency lawyer in Houston. The manager said the food-making system was too complex for someone who can't hear.
The restaurant uses audible timers that give off different tones when food is done or it has been on the counter too long, McFerren said. But it also has display screens that count down the time remaining.
Cruz could have relied on the monitors, McFerren said, and he uses a hearing aid that allows him to hear high-pitched tones.
"But Jack in the Box just assumed he couldn't do the job," she said. It didn't conduct an individual assessment of his abilities.
Jack in the Box denied the allegations and any wrongdoing.
"Jack in the Box has a long-standing policy prohibiting discrimination of any kind," according to restaurant spokesman Brian Luscomb. "We're pleased that this matter is resolved and wish Mr. Cruz success as he pursues his future studies."
Three weeks after getting rejected at Jack in the Box, Cruz landed a cooking job at McDonald's in Baytown, where he relied on video screens.
Cruz graduated from high school in May and is now working in food preparation at a full-service restaurant in the Houston area. He is applying to study auto mechanics at San Jacinto Community College, McFerren said.
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
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