John Woods, Brain-Injured Former Umpire, was Wrongfully Fired by Outback Steakhouse, Says EEOC Complaint; Claims by the Disabled on Rise

John Woods, a former umpire recovering from a brain injury, was fired from an Outback restaurant because of his disability, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges in a federal complaint.

The subject of several media reports in recent years, (the Arizona Republic had a long write-up on him in February), Woods had worked his way up the ranks as a minor-league umpire until a tragic 2004 car crash in Caracas, Venezuela. The Phoenix resident had to relearn basic tasks and give up his dream of becoming a major league umpire, but as of the Repub article was enjoying a return to officiating at high-school games.

Outback Steakhouse's Metrocenter restaurant hired Woods in November of 2009, and he worked there "successfully" as a server for a while. But restaurant management fired him in January 2010 because of problems related to his traumatic brain injury, the EEOC's complaint says.

Woods has slowed thinking, impaired speech and requires prism glasses.

The EEOC asks the court to award back pay and punitive damages to Woods, and to prohibit Outback from engaging in further disability discrimination.

We sent an e-mail to Woods but haven't heard back.

EEOC regional attorney Mary Jo O'Neill tells New Times that the tough economic times have caused a "big spike" in cases of disabled folks being unfairly fired.

She has three more cases on her desk that the EEOC is preparing to file suit over in the next couple of weeks, she says.

"As soon as the disability is discovered -- boom, they're gone," O'Neill says. Not only is the disabled person then out of a job, but they typically also lose the health insurance they desperately need, she says.

O'Neill says some employers don't seem to understand that changes Congress made to the Americans With Disability Act in 2009 confirmed that people with a wide range of medical problems, such as epilepsy, lupus or, as in Woods' case, traumatic brain injuries, are protected under federal employment laws.

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