Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

EEOC alleges New York Beer Project fired employee for having cancer

The New York Beer Project in Victor is accused of firing two employees over their disabilities.
Gino Fanelli
The New York Beer Project in Victor is accused of firing two employees over their disabilities.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against Victor’s New York Beer Project, alleging it unlawfully fired an employee with lymphoma and another with a traumatic brain injury.

The complaint was filed Wednesday in federal court on behalf of Jeffrey Arnold and William Jones, former bartenders at the brewery. It alleges NYBP violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing Arnold and Jones in 2020 because of their disabilities, despite both being able and medically cleared to work.

“The effect of the practices complained of...has been to deprive Arnold and Jones of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees because of their disability and/or perceived disability,” the complaint reads.

In a statement, NYBP spokesperson Olivia Krupski said the brewery denies the allegations.

“New York Beer Project has never, nor will it ever, discriminate against any employee based on a medical condition or any other characteristic,” the statement reads. “Period. We’re disturbed by these baseless accusations and will vigorously defend ourselves.”

The EEOC offered the brewery a chance to informally settle with Arnold and Jones in October. They never reached an agreement.

Arnold was hired by the brewery in April 2019, according to the complaint. He was diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of cancer affecting the lymphatic system, in February 2020. A month later, the brewery was forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Arnold, alongside all other employees, was furloughed.

In July, Arnold attended two training sessions to prepare to return to work. Despite being told he was still employed by his general manager, Sandra Coyne, Arnold was never added back to the schedule. On Sept. 18, Coyne told Arnold that NYBP had “decided to move on” and that he no longer had a job, the complaint said.

Arnold had undergone chemotherapy during this time period but was medically cleared to work.

“While Coyne later told Defendant’s owners that Arnold was terminated because of negative staff feedback, there was no record of any such feedback in Arnold’s personnel file nor Defendant’s daily shift logs,” the complaint reads. “Arnold had never had a performance review and did not work after he told Coyne about his disability.”

Jones, meanwhile, had a motorcycle accident in the brewery’s parking lot in June 2020. His physician told him he could return to work on July 6 with no restrictions. Shortly after, Jones had a seizure in his sleep, which was determined to be caused by a traumatic brain injury. His doctor advised taking leave from work until Aug. 31.

Jones was never put back on the schedule. According to the complaint, after asking when he could return to work, Jones was told that owners Kelly and Kevin Krupski wanted him to take more time off, out of concern he may have a seizure at work.

“An employer cannot substitute their own judgment when an employee is capable of working,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, in statement. “The ADA protects workers from such baseless fears and stereotypes.”

The complaint alleged that even though Jones had received clearance from his doctor to work without restrictions, Kevin Krupski requested a full review of physician correspondence, and potentially a conversation with Jones’s doctor, before he could return to work.

“(New York Beer Project) does not have any policy with this requirement, and even if it did, Jones had provided (NYBP) sufficient documentation from his doctors clearing him to work without restriction,” the complaint reads.

The New York Beer Project is a chain of upscale brewery/restaurants originally established in Lockport, Niagara County. It opened its Victor location, the company’s second, in February 2019. A third location opened in Orlando, Florida, near Disneyworld in November 2022. A fourth location in Orchard Park is slated to open this summer.

The EEOC complaint also alleges the brewery commingled confidential medical records with other documents that were not confidential, and that it made some employee medical records easily accessible to all staffers of the brewery.

For example, it alleges the brewery “stored files containing medical information of former employees in milk crates at the home of (its) Corporate Control Officer” and “maintained confidential medical information, including employee Covid-19 status, surgeries, illnesses, and leaves of absence in an electronic log accessible to all managers and non-management employees designated as managers on duty.”

The complaint is seeking, among other things, back pay and punitive damages for Arnold and Jones. It also wants the New York Beer Project to reform its records policy.

This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.