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EEOC settles discrimination lawsuit against hotel chain for firing autistic clerk

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SAN DIEGO—The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has settled its discrimination lawsuit against a California-based hotel chain for allegedly firing a front desk clerk with autism, the agency announced on Monday.

The hotel chain, Comfort Suites and its parent company, Newport Beach, Calif.-based Tarsadia Hotels, have agreed to pay $132,500 and make several changes to its employment practices and operations, the EEOC said in a statement.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, filed in a Los Angeles federal court in September 2010, supervisors at the Comfort Suites Mission Valley Hotel in San Diego denied a former front desk clerk diagnosed with autism access to a job coach that “would have helped the clerk learn to master his job by using autism-specific training techniques,” as well as made repeated disparaging remarks about his condition.

After refusing on several occasions to allow the job coach into the hotel, the supervisors allegedly accused the clerk of mishandling a hotel guest's packages and fired him.

The EEOC's suit accused the companies of failing to make a reasonable accommodation for the clerk's disability, discrimination and wrongful termination.

“A reasonable accommodation is often minimal in cost and merely involves open communication between the employer and employee to make it work,” Marla Stern, local director of the EEOC's San Diego local office, said in a statement. “The results can make all the difference for people with disabilities, allowing them to succeed in the workplace.”

According to the terms of the settlement, the former clerk will receive $125,000, while San Diego-based Partnership with Industry—the non-profit employment support organization that sent the job coach—will receive $7,500.

The EEOC also said Tarsadia agreed to “sweeping” changes to its employment practices, including a revision of its policies and procedures regarding compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, hiring an EEOC consultant to train all employees on ADA rights and responsibilities, and requiring managers and supervisors to submit their employee evaluations for compliance review. The company also agreed to submit yearly reports to the EEOC on its compliance with the settlement terms.