Family upset by firing of Panera Bread worker with special needs

Posted: Updated:

A Sussex County family says that they are upset and confused by the firing of their adult daughter with special needs by her employer, Panera Bread.

Jenni Barkhorn is 28 years old and has Down syndrome. She has worked at the Panera Bread Company in Sparta for the last four years.

“Washing tables, sweeping, bringing dishes to the back and washing windows,” says Barkhorn.

But the family says that last week Barkhorn was fired by the store’s general manager because she was unable to fulfill her duties.

"What she started out to be doing ended up being that a lot of other responsibilities were being put on her,” says Barkhorn’s mother Rita Mueller. “He said that they treat all their employees the same and she was expected to step up to those responsibilities as well."

Mueller says she found out Tuesday that her daughter had been written up three times since more duties had been added to her plate. She only worked at the restaurant once a week for two hours.

"I said I didn't agree with him or Panera’s policies that they would put this amount on her or any employee with special needs when it may be something that they cannot accomplish,” Mueller says.

Barkhorn left the store sad, angry and confused, according to her mother.

“I was a little bit, I don’t know, pissed off,” Barkhorn says.

"Her tears and her sobbing were as though she was losing her best friend or had lost her best friend. It was heart-wrenching,” says Mueller.

A spokesperson for Panera Bread Company says in a statement, "We are fully investigating this situation and will review our policies and procedures to make sure this and every employee are treated the right way."

Mueller says that her daughter already has some other job opportunities lined up, but she says that employers should have some compassion for those with special needs.

"I want other people to know that these young adults that want to be included in the community, do have some restrictions and they can only be pushed so far,” she says.

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