Discrimination | Disabled employee fired 'for eating a pear'

Disabled employee fired 'for eating a pear'

In most circumstances, when an employee is dismissed from an organisation it is due to misconduct, for example, harassing a colleague or stealing from an employer.

However, one worker has cited allegations of discrimination after he was fired for eating a pear, reported the Daily Mail.

The former UPS worker is suing the company claiming that the organisation let him go for eating the fruit because bosses wanted to get rid of him due to his severe disabilities.

William Cortez, who worked at UPS’s Battery Park location in Manhattan, New York, from 2004 to 2019, revealed that the HR department told him he was being let go due to the instance with the fruit.

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The dismissal was made despite Cortez being told by supervisors when he started working for UPS, that staff could eat expiring food shipped via the parcel service rather than throwing it away. However, the lawsuit stated that the food had to be consumed on site.

It went on to reveal that Cortez and other employees were offered a box of pears that would have been thrown away, where at least five other co-workers enjoyed the fruit in the office.

Cortez explained that later that month loss prevention staff questioned him about the missing fruit, and informed them that the employees and himself had eaten the food product in accordance with the company’s policy.

At the time, he claimed that UPS was satisfied with his explanation, but 15 months later he was fired over the incident.

In January 2018, his health started to take a turn for the worse and as a result ended up out of work on disability for over a year. However, in March 2019 Cortez’s doctor stated he was only able to return to work with on-the-job accommodations.

On March 4 2019, the HR team at UPS organised a meeting with Cortez to discuss the needed adjustments, which included non-desk work, avoiding driving and lifting more than 25 pounds.

Cortez claimed in the lawsuit that he attended the meeting but was fired over the pear incident and was told that eating the fruit was considered theft.

In contrast, the lawsuit stated that the other employees who ate the food were not removed from their positions at the company.

Cortez is now suing UPS for undisclosed damages, citing that the employer wanted to fire him over his disabilities.

A UPS Spokesperson has since said that the organisation will ‘review the scenario, look into the predicament, and answer appropriately’.

Discrimination in the UK workplace

In a similar case that HR Grapevine reported on last year, a worker claimed he was fired for being HIV positive and went on to sue his employer.

While the UPS case happened in the US, when it comes to discrimination like this in the workplace in the UK, employees are protected under the Equality Act 2010. There are nine characteristics in total that are protected including age, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation and disability.

Therefore, in Cortez’s case, the legislation provides disabled people with protection from discrimination in a range of areas including four main types of discrimination: direct, indirect, harassment and victimisation.

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Comments (3)

  • Rajesh
    Fri, 21 Feb 2020 2:24pm GMT
    the legislation quoted is UK law but this matter took place in America - I'm sure they have legislation to protect against discrimination on the grounds of disability but the Equality Act is UK law.
  • Boris
    Fri, 21 Feb 2020 1:13pm GMT
    Wow, this is a weird one? If they indeed fired him for eating fruit but didn't fire the others who also ate it then it would appear that the only difference would be his disability and time off sick. UPS seem to be a really rubbish employer, didn't one of their workers die because they weren't allowed to go to a Dr's appointment?
  • Lauren
    Fri, 21 Feb 2020 12:52pm GMT
    So what sort of work WAS he able to do if he couldn't do desk work, driving or lifting?

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