EEOC Sues Nick's Restaurant for Disability Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Retaliation

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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Restaurant/Sports Bar Revoked a Reasonable Accommodation for a Disabled Server and Fired Her After She Complained, Federal Agency Charges

HOUSTON - PNS Investments, Inc. operating as Nick's Restaurant and Sports Bar, unlawfully discriminated against a server because of a disability, subjected her to sexual harassment and finally fired her in retaliation for complaining, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.  Nick's is a sports bar and restaurant in the Houston area.

According to the EEOC's suit, Laura Kercheval has congenital achondroplasia dwarfism.  When she was hired as a server for Nick's, she was allowed a reasonable accommodation of a modified work station to retrieve her drink tray from a lower shelf behind the bar.  Subsequently, a new general manager disallowed the accommodation and told Kercheval to retrieve her drink tray from the bar counter, the main wait station.  The new general manager refused to reconsider this order when he was told of the physical risks associated with Kercheval's use of the main wait station, and he made no effort to find an alternative accommodation.  Because Kercheval complained and made repeated requests for a reasonable accommodation, the new general manager reduced her work hours and then fired her.  Also, according to the suit, Nick's owner sexually harassed Kercheval by repeatedly making unwelcome sexual comments and physical contact.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability.  Nick's also engaged in unlawful employment practices in violation of the ADA when it retaliated against Kercheval by reducing her hours and discharging her.  Additionally, Nick's violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by subjecting the server to sexual harassment by its owner.  The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. PNS Investments, Inc. d/b/a Nick's Restaurant and Sports Bar, Civil Action No. __________) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division after attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  

The EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting Nick's from engaging in any further discrimination on the basis of disability, sex, or retaliation.  The EEOC is also seeking back pay on behalf of Kercheval, as well as compensatory damages, punitive damages, and other relief on her behalf.

"An employer can't lawfully revoke an accommodation which allows an employee with a disability to perform her job and then refuse to make efforts to find a reasonable alternative," said EEOC's Houston District Director R.J. Ruff, Jr.  "Nick's had apparently solved a challenging situation, but a new manager inexplicably decided to un-solve it, so the EEOC must now step in."

EEOC Regional Attorney Jim Sacher added, "As bad as the disability discrimination was, this restaurant made an unsavory situation even worse by adding retaliation and sexual harassment to the menu.  Nick's subjected this woman to three kinds of unlawful discrimination, when one is bad enough.  This situation clearly calls for the EEOC to take forceful action, which we are doing with this suit."  

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.  The Houston District Office of the EEOC oversees Eastern Texas and Louisiana.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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