Tri Delt receives legal complaint from former chef

Safiya Merchant

Northwestern’s Upsilon chapter of Delta Delta Delta is facing a legal complaint and possible lawsuit from one of its former employees, who claims he was released from his job because he has a physical disability.

Jeff Goldfarb, 42, previously worked at Tri Delt as a chef, and after cooking for about five months at the sorority, he was fired by Tri Delt’s house mother, Judith Burns, in February, he said. Goldfarb said he believes he was fired because he had to take time off work in order to attend medical appointments for his chronic arthritis. He can be considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act because he has sciatic and psoriatic arthritis, according to the demand letter of Mason Cole, a lawyer who is overseeing Goldfarb’s case.

Cole said Goldfarb is seeking to settle for $43,000 before pursuing a lawsuit. If a settlement agreement cannot be reached, Cole said, he and his client will ask for permission from the Illinois Department of Human Rights to file a lawsuit on “wrongful termination.” Once the Department completes its investigation, which can take up to 18 months, Cole and Goldfarb will be notified if their case has enough merit to pursue in state court.

“If they believe that we have a legitimate complaint, they’re going to give us what’s called a right-to-sue letter,” said Cole, a managing partner at Cole Sadkin, LLC.

One of the firm’s lawyers, Griffin Daleiden, is also the attorney of record on Goldfarb’s case, Cole said in an email.

Before working for Tri Delt, Goldfarb cooked at the downtown Chicago Marriott Hotel for 13 years.

Goldfarb said when he first started working for the sorority, he consistently received feedback on his dishes from Burns. However, as time passed, he rarely saw or heard from her.

The chef later notified Burns he would miss one half-day of work January 12 to register for the Chicago Pace ADA bus program, which allows all people with disabilities to ride CTA, Pace and Metra routes for free. A little less than a month later, Goldfarb said, Burns presented him with his last paycheck as he exited the sorority house at the end of his work day. He said she did not give him two weeks’ notice.

“I was blindsided when I was let go,” Goldfarb said.

During the beginning of his time at Tri Delt, Goldfarb said, Burns also told him she did not want a cook who had other commitments, such as doctor appointments. He said Burns did not want to take up his shifts when he had to take off work.

“She couldn’t handle it. She didn’t want to handle it,” Goldfarb said.

Although a demand letter asking for a settlement was issued to both Burns and Jennifer Thomas, the senior director of operations at Delta Delta Delta National House Corporation, Tri Delt’s Upsilon chapter said it “has not received notice” of any lawsuit regarding Goldfarb, according to an email sent to The Daily by Thomas.

“The Chapter affirmatively denies that there was any unlawful or discriminatory treatment against him,” Tri Delt said in the email.

Cole said although the sorority stated Goldfarb was released from his position because it did not like his food, there is evidence indicating the contrary, such as the tweets from the NU Tri Delt chapter praising Goldfarb’s meals. Goldfarb has also said the girls in Tri Delt would often come into the sorority house’s kitchen and commend him for his cooking, and they bought him a cake and card for his birthday.

“We think that he was terminated because the corporation of the sorority was not willing to accommodate this disability,” Cole said. “I don’t think necessarily Ms. Burns or the sorority really meant to do any wrong…it’s just there are laws, and we’re trying to make sure that Jeff has the respect of any typical worker.”

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