Wendy’s Franchisee Sued for $4M by Mentally Impaired Worker

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By Patrick Dorrian

Sept. 12 — A former Wendy’s employee in Puerto Rico who has intellectual and other impairments sued the franchisee for $4 million, claiming new managers waged a campaign of harassment to drive him out ( Lopez Vazquez v. WENDCO of Puerto Rico, Inc. , D.P.R., No. 3:16-cv-02628, complaint filed 9/12/16 ).

Erick Lopez-Vazquez says the harassment by managers of WENDCO of Puerto Rico Inc. included not honoring disability-based work accommodations that had been in place for more than 10 years. The accommodations were established after a year-long process between the employer and a company that provides services to people with intellectual limitations, the former worker alleges in a lawsuit filed Sept. 12.

The new managers made Lopez-Vazquez work outside in the sun and perform physically taxing tasks that ran counter to his job accommodations, the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico asserts. One new manager also allegedly gave Lopez-Vazquez work instructions that were inconsistent with prior managers’ instructions “to create the false impression” that he didn’t follow orders or fulfill his job duties. Lopez-Vazquez was forced to undergo psychiatric treatment as a result of the abuse, according to the complaint.

Various unnamed individuals and ABC Insurance Co., which allegedly provided insurance coverage to WENDCO and the unnamed individuals, are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Complaint Seeks $4 Million in Damages

The complaint was filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Puerto Rico law. It seeks $2 million in compensatory damages and an equal amount in punitive damages.

It alleges that Lopez-Vazquez has several medical conditions that were known to WENDCO at the time he was hired as a crew member at Wendy’s Plaza Escorial in July 2005, including mild mental retardation and osteopetrosis—a bone disease that makes bones abnormally dense and prone to breaking. Working with Colegio de Educacion Especial y Rehabilitacion Integral Inc., WENDCO agreed to and provided various accommodations for Lopez-Vazquez’s medical issues until approximately August 2015, when Alexis Ruiz was made a manager and began supervising Lopez-Vazquez.

Ruiz and other managers immediately embarked on a pattern of harassment against Lopez-Vazquez, including Ruiz calling him “lazy,” “liar,” “slow” and “sloppy” in front of other employees, the complaint asserts. Ruiz would also yell in Lopez-Vazquez’s face, according to the complaint, and assigned him chores involving heavy lifting that caused Lopez-Vazquez “great physical pain” and exposed him to possible bone fractures as a result of his osteopetrosis.

In addition, another worker allegedly overheard Ruiz remark with regard to Lopez-Vazquez, “since I cannot fire him, I am going to put pressure on him so he will leave.” The complaint also cites alleged comments by two other managers: one to Lopez-Vazquez’s mother, stating that “I am not going to pay an employee to throw away the trash only"; the other to Lopez-Vazquez directly, stating that “today you are going to clean the sidewalk and I have to watch you because I was told you are lazy and sloppy.”

Lopez-Vazquez complained about the harassment and other mistreatment, but WENDCO never investigated or disciplined Ruiz or the other managers, the complaint asserts.

WENDCO didn’t respond Sept. 12 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

Del Valle Emanuelli Law Offices represent Lopez-Vazquez. No attorney has filed an appearance yet on behalf of WENDCO or the other defendants.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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