A Huntington Station man was fired from his job at Burger King after refusing to tuck in his shirt because it interfered with the operation of his colostomy bag, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday against the fast-food franchise.
Ryan Pacheco, 20, said he disclosed during the application process that he had a medical condition requiring the use of a waterproof pouch to collect waste from his body but the condition would not affect his ability to perform the job.
He started July 2 as a cashier and French fry maker at the Burger King on New York Avenue in Huntington Station.
But during his first shift an assistant manager asked Pacheco to tuck in his shirt, the suit said. The new hire explained that tucking in the shirt could cause the bag to leak and potentially create a dangerous blockage in his abdomen.
At the end of his shift, Pacheco said he was called into the assistant manager's office and told he was being let go because individuals with colostomy bags were not permitted to work around food.
Pacheco, who had briefly worked at a McDonald's in Pensacola, Florida, said the bag did not interfere with his ability to work.
"I was pretty furious and felt humiliated," said Pacheco, who graduated from the Cobble Hill School of American Studies in Brooklyn and had been taking classes at SUNY College at Old Westbury. "I wanted to work. And they took it away from me before I had a good chance to prove myself."
Garden City employment attorney Jonathan Bell, who filed the suit against Burger King in Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead, said the fast-food chain violated New York State Human Rights laws that protect individuals with disabilities against discrimination.
"Ryan could perform the essential functions of the job. All he needed was a minor accommodation allowing him to work without tucking in his shirt," Bell said. "This is a very clear case of discrimination."
Bell is seeking financial damages for pain and suffering, back pay for Pacheco's one shift and front pay since he's been yet unable to find a new job.
"Unfortunately, we’re learning about this team member’s experience at this time as well," a spokesperson for the Miami-based Burger King said in an email Friday afternoon. "The franchisee is investigating to understand the details."
Pacheco was born with a condition that requires he use of a colostomy bag, which collects waste that passes through his abdominal wall into the bag. The colostomy bag is leakproof when used correctly.
The incident, Pacheco said, has damaged his confidence and self-esteem.
"Since the incident my morale has basically shattered," he said. "I was doing so well and something like this happens and it hit me so hard. It's terrible."