James Kwon confidently walked into the Chick-fil-A restaurant in the summer of 2014 in Orland Park, Ill to ask about employment there. His job coach accompanied him to help ensure his success. They were told the manager was not in. When they did speak with the branch manager, he advised that Chick-fil-A was “not interested in hiring people with disabilities.” He added, “People with disabilities would not be able to succeed at Chick-fil-A.”
Kwon, a 25-year-old autistic man, did not even complete a formal application. He was turned away before even having the chance to prove himself capable of doing the job. Kwon had worked at a Baker’s Square restaurant through a work study program prior to seeking work at Chick-fil-A. His duties there included cleaning menus, windows, entry doors, tables, and booths; sweeping and vacuuming floors; and taking out the garbage.
Kwon had proven himself to his previous manager who stated Kwon “performed his job duties diligently and capably.” He was hoping to be able to do some of those same duties at the Chick-fil-A, but was not even allowed to prove he could do it. Kwon and his attorney, Jin-Ho Chung, sued Chick-fil-A and Chick-fil-A, Inc. for discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Kevin Bulmann, the owner of the Chick-fil-A restaurant Kwon visited released the following statement:
“Chick-fil-A at Orland Park is aware of Mr. Kwon’s lawsuit and strenuously denies violating any laws. Our restaurant does not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated Mr. Kwon’s allegations and did not find cause to believe that discrimination occurred.”
The ADA specifically prohibits discrimination of persons with disabilities who are capable of becoming gainfully employed. When people with developmental disabilities are capable of doing the job, why not allow them the chance? All Kwon wants is to live a fulfilling life and that includes working and earning his own money. Why deny him that?
Autism Spectrum Disorders carry varied levels of severity depending on the individual. Some individuals with the disorder are not able to communicate verbally. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of these individuals never speak. In addition to non-verbal communication, other symptoms include failure to empathize with others, failure to understand humor, the need for routine and sameness, among others.
As stated, these symptoms vary and may not always be present. In individuals such as Kwon who has demonstrated ability to work, none of the symptoms listed would factor into his performance on the job. It is estimated that up to 33 percent of individuals with autism are able to lead productive lives and be at least partially independent.
In Kwon’s case, he was more high-functioning and was considered to have a higher level of intelligence. Although he may continue to need assistance in certain areas such as communication with others, he was willing to do what was necessary to realize his dream of having a full-time job.
What can we as a society do to incorporate more individuals like Kwon who are capable of working? Let’s discuss here or on Twitter: @lcarterwriter