HOLBROOK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — For years, Chris Fox greeted shoppers at a Costco store on Long Island, but now he has filed a lawsuit claiming managers removed him from his post because he has Tourette syndrome.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported exclusively Tuesday, Fox can put on a happy face in a crowd. He is also a part-time comedian, and makes people laugh about Tourette syndrome to help them understand.
“I’d rather have Tourette’s than like the Mets,” Fox quipped in a standup set at Caroline’s. “At least mine’s curable.”
He suffers from blinking, neck snapping and vocal tips, and said he was mocked and ridiculed as a child.
Taunted as a child, Fox found a comfort zone working the crowd at the front door of the Costco in Holbrook. He was a beloved fixture for many as he greeted shoppers.
“I always saw he would struggle with it, and I could always tell that he was using some coping mechanisms to control it,” said a Costco shopper named Sean.
But Fox said about two years ago, new managers opened the door to bullying on the job. He said coworkers were ridiculing, mocking and mimicking him — and it was no laughing matter.
“New management came, and my life just became a living hell,” he said.
Fox has now taken on the retail giant with a federal discrimination lawsuit, as h was pulled from the door after 18 years.
“I always felt with my Tourette’s syndrome, who would ever hire me? And Costco gave me an opportunity,” Fox said, “and I thought I had to deal with this, until I talked to legal people and they said: ‘No you don’t. There are rights to protect you.’”
Attorney Steve Morelli said witnesses support Fox’s claims.
“To make fun of him — to make comments about him because he has a disability — that can’t happen in the workplace,” Morelli said.
Costco spokesman Rich Olin told CBS2 in a statement: “We trust in the legal system to fairly resolve the matter. The company prohibits all forms of discrimination. Costco’s policies focus on obeying the law and taking care of our employees. There are not just words, but a companywide promise to conduct our business in this manner.”
The head of the National Tourette Syndrome Association said the often-misunderstood disorder affects one in 100 Americans.
“Much the same as we do for people with autism; people with ADHD, Tourette is a neurobiological disorder as well,” said Tourette Syndrome Association President Annetta Hewko, “and we need to accommodate people.”
Fox claimed he is suing not for money, but to stand up against discrimination.
“Honestly, you’ll either be looking down on me on my grave, or you’re going to be looking up at me for standing up for my rights,” he said.
Fox has been on a leave of absence from Costco since November while the lawsuit is fought in court.