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May 17, 2004

Jack in the Box turns down deaf applicant, draws lawsuit

From: Houston Chronicle, TX - May 17, 2004

Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Federal employment regulators are suing Jack in the Box for allegedly refusing to hire a deaf applicant at its restaurant in Baytown.

Alfonso Cruz applied for a cook's position in February of last year but was turned down because the store manager considered his deafness to be a liability, according to the lawsuit filed in a Houston federal court Monday.

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 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawyer working on the case.

The store manager of the North Main store in Baytown told Cruz she could not hire him for the $5.15 an hour position because of the complexity of its food operation, McFerren said.

Jack in the Box operates with an audible timer system that sounds different tones when the food is cooked or it has been sitting too long, McFerren said. But it also has display screens that count down the time remaining.

Allegations of discrimination are totally unfounded, and Jack in the Box has a long-standing policy of not tolerating discrimination of any kind, said Brian Luscomb, spokesman for the San Diego-based restaurant chain, which has 1,970 U.S. locations.

Luscomb said he hadn't seen the lawsuit, which alleges that Jack in the Box violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Cruz later found a job as a fry cook at a competing fast-food restaurant in Baytown and is doing well, McFerren said. He reads video screens that are in the restaurant, so he knows what to prepare.

Cruz, a high school senior preparing for graduation, plans to go to a junior college in the fall to study auto mechanics.

"They assumed what he could or could not do without considering his individual abilities," McFerren said.

Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle