Burger King did not respond to requests seeking comment, and the company has not yet filed a response in court to Peña’s complaint. Victor Viramontes, a lawyer for Pena who is senior counsel at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said his group sees discrimination against Latinos who are HIV-positive as a serious problem in the workplace.
“When they’re fired from their job, they frequently lose their healthcare with it,” Viramontes said.
The 35-year-old Peña found out he was HIV-positive in April 2011 and wrestled with the decision over whether to tell his superiors, he said in an interview. He eventually told one manager in June 2011 because he felt they should know in case side effects from his medicine caused him to need time off work. He said he was hoping for support.
“It was a very personal decision that I thought about before I did it,” Peña said of telling the supervisor, who isn’t named in the suit. “I was looking more for guidance and support, and that’s why I did it.”
Peña claims that he received emails pertaining to issues affecting the performance of the Burger King restaurants that he managed only after revealed his status to his supervisor. Prior to speaking to his manger, he claims that he had a stellar work record.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits this kind of discrimination. It defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” HIV falls under that standard and Victor Viramontes, Pena’s attorney and senior counsel at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is determined to make Burger King an example of the challenges that HIV positive individuals face in the work place.
“The fact pattern is very troubling, particularly against a large corporate entity like Burger King,” he said. “We wanted to step in and send a message to employers that this is inappropriate.”