A bus driver who was fired for refusing to hand out coupons for free hamburgers filed a lawsuit Monday accusing the Orange County Transportation Authority of discriminating against him because of his ethical beliefs.
"We feel that his belief system should be given the same weight as religious beliefs," said Gloria Allred, attorney for driver Bruce Anderson, who was dismissed June 7.
"They are part of his identity," Allred said. "This case may be the first of its kind in the nation, and we believe that it is important not only for vegetarians but also to all those employees who wish to have their employers respect their strongly held moral and ethical beliefs."
Anderson first refused on June 4 to hand out coupons providing bus riders free Carl's Jr. hamburgers if they also purchased a soft drink, a promotion sponsored by the OCTA. Speaking Monday at a press conference at Orange County Superior Court, Anderson said the termination had changed his life.
"Since I lost my job," he said, "I have had a lot of sleepless nights. Sometimes I talk to people and break down in tears. I worry a lot about what is going to happen next. . . . I would just like to go back to driving a bus, as long as I don't have to pass out coupons that are based on the abuse and slaughter of animals."
An OCTA spokesman said the lawsuit would not change the agency's contention that Anderson was fired for good cause.
"It's a case of insubordination," said John Standiford. "It never had anything to do with vegetarian beliefs. It's the case of a driver making a conscious decision not to do his job, and the lawsuit isn't going to change those facts."
Anderson's lawsuit asks that he be returned to his job and awarded an unspecified amount of money for "extreme and severe mental anguish and emotional distress." He is also seeking compensation for lost earnings and possible medical expenses.